Tuesday, 19 June 2012


THE HIGHWAYMAN was a 1987-88 action/ adventure show from the fertile imagination of uber-producer Glen Larson (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY, KIGHT RIDER, THE FALL GUY and a shed-load others).

It's been said that Larson is the ultimate TV salesman.  During the peak of his producing career (the late seventies to the late eighties), he seemed to have no trouble at all selling shows to the US networks.  However, many of them were gimmick-shows (or, notoriously, 'inspired' by a recent Hollywood movie) that quickly bored audiences (MANIMAL, AUTOMAN and others).

THE HIGHWAYMAN is a late Larson entry (although he was still producing into the nineties and boasted a producer credit on the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA although this was purely a contractual nicety) and something of a greatest hits package: mixing KNIGHT RIDER with B.J. AND THE BEAR, adding more than a little MAD MAX to the mix.

It's another in the long-line of "hardware" shows including KNIGHT RIDER, AIRWOLF, BLUE THUNDER, STREET HAWK, VIPER and TEAM KNIGHT RIDER.

The Highwayman is a government law enforcement officer with a state-of-the-art, unfeasibly high-tech truck.  His assignment: enforce the law on the high roads and back roads of America.

The Highwayman (or "Highway") is the man with no name.  Played by ex-FLASH GORDON Sam J. Jones (now boasting black hair and an unfeasible amount of leather considering his desert beat).  The premise of the show immediately falls down at this point as "Highway" is one of a number of law enforcement officers, collectively known as Highwaymen.  It's like a police officer being called "Police".

The show's gimmick is the truck: it's packed-full of the latest state-of-the-art gadgets (ala Knight Rider although it doesn't talk and doesn't sound like a Cylon) including a sports car in the trailer, high tech communications gear, a cab that converts into a helicopter and (only in the pilot) the ability to become invisible ("stealth"), with the help of a satellite and a control room full of government boffins ala WAR GAMES.

The show debuted with a stand-alone TV movie THE HIGHWAYMAN (aka Terror on the Black Top) which is significantly different from the series that followed.  In the pilot, the only overt science fiction/ fantasy element is the truck itself.  The setting is contemporary USA.  The plot, a biker gang menaces a small town, is a familiar eighties stand-by already used by Larson in The Fall Guy and Knight Rider.  Indeed, the whole thing feels like a reheated KR episode.  Familiar TV faces in the first instalment include Claudia Christian (Highway's controller who, unbelievably, doubles as a late-night sultry DJ allowing her to issue instructions to her agent over the airwaves), Jimmy Smits, Mikey Jones, Wings Hauser, Rowdy Roddy Piper and even G. Gordon Liddy.

The short-lived 1988 weekly series significantly reworked the format.  The (unstated) time frame moved several years into the future and story lines revolved around aliens, clones, androids, ghosts, time travel and spare-parts surgery.  Unfortunately, few of these make much sense and the show gives the impression that Larson is choosing plots by flicking through a book of unexplained phenomena.

Highway is now part of a team of law enforcers collectively called Highwaymen (you can see the confusion), each apparently issued with a high-tech truck (although none are as impressive as the show's "hero" rig) and lots of leather.

Christan, and her DJing, were ditched in favour of genre favourite Jane Badler, fresh from V (and about to decamp to Australia for the revived MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE), as Highway's new controller. Cue lots of predictable "you won't follow orders" frustrations.

Also added to the cast was the way-too-annoying Mark "Jacko" Jackson as uncouth Australian (this was the CROCODILE DUNDEE era) Jetto.  Jackson was an ex Australian footballer who became flavour-of-the-month in a number of US TV commercials.

Another series regular was Tim Russ: Tuvoc in STAR TREK: VOYAGER.

The series was filmed in and around Phoenix, Arizona: a location which created its own problems with heat and inhospitable conditions.  Phoenix unconvincingly doubles as New York (the palm trees are a giveaway) in the episode Send in the Clones.

Badler complained about the heat, and the tensions in caused amongst cast and crew, in a STARLOG MAGAZINE interview.

Send in the Clones reunited several supporting cast members (but not Dennis Weaver) from Larson's seventies hit McCLOUD.  Ever the salesman, Larson intended the episode as a back-door pilot for a spin-off show revolving around the clone character.  Unsurprisingly, no-one signed the deal.

The episode Frightmare, with flashbacks to several previous episodes, was clearly intended to be the season finale but aired earlier than planned when NBC jumbled the broadcast order.

The episode The Hitchhiker was, improbably, remade as an episode of Larson's NIGHT MAN during its first season.  The script was reworked and a large amount of footage reused.  New scenes included Jetto's truck (which suggests that Highway's rig was either unavailable or too expensive to hire as this would have given Larson a lot more opportunities to intercut footage from the original show).  The low-budget syndicated show was based on the Malibu Comics super hero, by this point under the ownership of Marvel Comics.  Another episode revived Larson's MANIMAL, in the hopes of attracting interest in a full revival.

Oft-time Larson collaborator William Conrad (CANNON, JAKE AND THE FAT MAN) supplied the opening narration.

Familiar guest stars (and former Larson collaborators) throughout the nine episodes include Anne Lockhart, Kent McCord, Lloyd Bochner, Pamela Susan Shoop and Terry Carter.

The show was cancelled after a single season.

In the UK, it aired on ITV as part of its late-night/ overnight service.  It's not been seen on TV in decades.

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