I discovered Route 66 for the first time a quarter of a century ago. I was 17, going on 18, living in conservative suburban Utah, and the show came on daily on Nick at Nite. I instantly fell in love with Route 66 and I watched it religiously. Tod and Buz were my heroes. Their search for authenticity in John F. Kennedy's America resonated deeply with me. It helped that they tooled around America in such an awesome convertible Corvette, which proved to be the other main character of the show.
When I couldn't watch the show, I recorded it on VHS. My brother Jeff watched it with me. I loved the beatnik-influenced dialogue, the on-location scenes of America (circa '60, '61, '62 and '63) and the show's existentialism. I loved that the show often had sad endings, that it never offered any pat answers, that it mixed pathos and humor so damn well.
I found the two main actors on Route 66, George Maharis and Martin Milner, incredibly compelling. Maharis and Milner had a strong fraternal chemistry, I thought. I'd grown up on Adam-12, the cop show that starred Milner and Kent McCord, on the air from 1968 to 1975 (I now collect Adam-12 on DVD, too, thanks to Shout! Factory). So I was familiar with Milner from that show. I'd never seen Maharis before. I was going through a Jack Kerouac phase in those days - '85, '86, '87 - and I thought Maharis bore an uncanny resemblance to the renowned Beat author.
Then something terrible happened. Nick at Nite yanked Route 66 off the air. I can't remember when this devastating moment occurred. Sometime in '87, I think. And I'd stupidly recorded over my Route 66 VHS tapes (goddamn Miami Vice in that Friday night time slot!). God, I was depressed. This was in the days before the Internet and DVDs. Route 66 was impossible to find. It wasn't available on VHS. I searched and searched. I was forlorn. My two television heroes, Buz and Tod, were gone. I had never loved a TV show that much. A few came close: Leave it to Beaver, The Twilight Zone, Gilligan's Island, The Outer Limits, The Fugitive, All in the Family, Miami Vice, The Rockford Files (to name a few). But nothing could touch Route 66. It was my favorite TV show then. It remains my favorite today.
For the longest time, I searched and searched for Route 66 on my TV dial, but I couldn't find the show anywhere. No TV stations aired it. It had gone the way of other MIA TV shows like Highway Patrol, The Naked City, Wagon Train, The Rifleman, One Step Beyond, The Rat Patrol, Nanny and the Professor, That Girl and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (rest in peace, David Nelson - we love you!). The years passed... 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991... No Route 66, anywhere. 1992... 1993...
The coming of the Internet changed everything. On June 25, 1994, I posted a message on an old USENET bulletin board. I actually tracked it down and it's still archived on Google Groups. "Please, if you know where to find episodes of Route 66 on video, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org." I didn't hear anything back for a while. Eventually, a woman from the Heartland (I can't remember where, exactly... I think it was Oklahoma) posted a message saying that if I sent her some amount of money - I think it was $50 - she'd send me a bunch of episodes she taped off Nick at Nite. I was desperate. I sent her the money. The VHS tapes came to my home in Ogden, Utah, a few weeks later. I almost cried. I now owned about eight or nine Route 66 episodes. The picture quality was a bit dicey, but, hey!, it was better than nothing! And I dug the fact that she kept in some of those eight-year-old Nick at Nite commercials.
Shortly thereafter, in 1995, Columbia House Video released several Route 66 videos on VHS. I ended up buying them all. There were something like 20 episodes total (two per tape). They were the most famous episodes - "The Thin White Line," "Birdcage on My Foot," "First Class Mouliak," "How Much a Pound is Albatross?" Looking back, it wasn't much, but for a Route 66 who'd gone years and years without seeing the show, those tapes were like a fresh, cold drink of water after years of wandering in the desert.
Flash forward to the 2000s. In 2007, Infinity Entertainment Group began releasing entire Route 66 seasons on DVD. I snapped them up as fast as they came out. Season 1, Part 1... Season 1, Part 2... All of Season 2... Season 3, Part 1, Season 3, Part 2... I was in heaven! I'm still waiting for the final season, Season 4, but - I'll be honest - I'm not devastated that it's not out on DVD yet. When you read this blog, you'll see that I'm so heavily biased toward George Maharis/Buz Murdock that it's not even funny. His replacement, Lincoln Case (Glenn Corbett) was cool. But he was no Buz Murdock. And there are several Route 66 episodes where Tod Stiles goes solo, sans Buz. It just isn't the same.
But I digress. I'm on the verge of starting a religion around Infinity Entertainment for releasing Route 66 on DVD. I won't. But I will say this, "Thank you, Infinity. You've brought me immense amounts of joy!" And rest assured, when you decide to release Season 4, I'll be one of the first to buy it. I'll put it on pre-order.
Because I love Route 66 so much - everything from the scenery to Buz and Tod to the wonderful Nelson Riddle score to the great teleplays (many written by the late, great Stirling Silliphant), to the guest stars, to the Corvette, to the little announcement in the end credits "Herbert B. Leonard, Executive Producer..." - I have chosen to launch a blog about the TV show.
My plan is to watch each episode and write about it - or at least, as many episodes as I can in the seasons (one through three) that are currently available. If Season Four - the final season of Route 66 - is released on DVD while I'm writing this Blog, I will cover it as well. I will also include blog entries on the show's guest stars, Route 66 TV commercials, filming locations - pretty much all things Route 66. I will also be featuring scenes on this blog from episodes, cool lines of dialogue, trivia, info about the making of the show, and I'll rate the regular fistfights and love interests that happened throughout the show's history.
Please keep tuning in for more. What follows is my loving ode to a great show.