Decision, The Virginian, Laredo and The Men From Shiloh

Decision (1958)
Laredo (1965-1967)
The Men From Shiloh (1970-1971)
The Virginian (1962-1970)
Type: Spin Offs
Group: 35

   Okay, right off the bat, if you are looking for some well done, well written material on most of this stuff, might I point you over to the articles over at TV about The Viriginian and The Men From Shiloh. If you're looking for a crappy half assed article on the same material, congratulations, you've come to the right place.

   Seriously, I stumbled upon the TV Party articles while researching these spin offs and realized I could not do a better job writing this stuff up. I will now prove that point.

   This all starts years before TV was even invented, back in 1902 when Owen Wister wrote a little western novel titled The Virginian. It was a popular book. If there was a "Hollywood" in 1902 they would have been rushing to turn the book into a film. And I know this because the minute there was a Hollywood and a motion picture industry, they started filming a movie version of The Viriginian and then they just never stopped. Seriously, they filmed that book over and over and over! Missed the 1914 silent movie version? No worries. Catch the 1923 silent version. What? You like sound? Oh, well then wait six more years for the Gary Cooper version in 1929. Need color AND sound? Might I point you to the fourth adaptation released in 1946. Heck, you'd think it's long run as a TV show would cap things. No need to adapt further. Fah! The year 2000 brought another telefilm adaptation!

   But lets back up a bit. The book was popular. It spawned lots of movies. At the end of the 50s/start of the 60s the western became a hugely popular TV genre. Today you don't see many western TV series on the air but back then you couldn't change the channel without tripping over a western. The Virginian being popular, it made sense to bring it to TV. The first TV take on The Virginian happened on a 1958 summer replacement series called Decision. Decision was an anthology series. Each week, new story, new cast. One of those stories was a half hour take on The Virginian starring James Drury as the title character, a role he would go onto play for almost a decade on the actual series The Virginian.

   Now here's where it gets weird. Technically speaking this could be considered a spin off. I mean, James Drury plays the character for a single episode on one show and then goes onto play that same character in a TV series. Sounds like a spin off. But here's the thing. Decision wasn't your typical anthology series. See, back in 1958 NBC had all these failed pilots laying around and they had time in the schedule they they needed to fill. Solution? Throw all those pilots on the air as an anthology series! So it's not like The Virginian was filmed as an episode of Decision and then was so well received it was turned into a series. Uh uh. Instead, a pilot was filmed for The Virginian that wasn't very good - they turned the Virginian into a bit of a prissy boy - and they dumped it on air as part of Decision. Then around four years later James Drury just happened to get cast again as the same character in another TV adaptation of The Virginian. So... only kinda sorta a spin off.

   So The Virginian hits the air. It was unique in that it was one of the first 90 minute long westerns. You heard me. Used to be they actually made 90 minute long TV shows. The show focused on 1890's Medicine Bow, Wyoming and, specifically, the Shiloh Ranch. The Virginian worked at the ranch. He was a mystery man, his past and name unknown. He was simply known as the Virginian. But I think I could hazard a guess on that past. I'm guessing either you could learn a lot about his past by showing his picture around VIRGINIA or else he's proud about never having had sex and has a misunderstanding of how certain words are pronounced. I told ya you should've read the other article.

   In 1965 NBC decided to use The Virginian to launch a new western called Laredo. Shiloh's Trampas heads to Mexico to get a bull for Judge Garth. His trip takes him through Laredo, Texas where he runs into three Texas Rangers who just seemed primed to have a show of their own. In typical TV show fashion Trampas starts out by butting heads with them. I mean, it's hero meets hero 101. Batman and Superman can become best friends but on first meeting there has to be a misunderstanding that leads to a big fight. It used to be a law I think. But then after the fight the rule is the heroes all become friends and work together to defeat the real bad guys, which is exactly what happened as well. Trampas and the Laredo Texas Rangers foiled a gold robbery, defeated the bad guys and saved the innocents. Then Trampas took his bull back to The Virginian.

   The Virginian was on a loooong time. Eight season makes for a lot of plots. Shows on fewer seasons than that run out of gas and start repeating themselves. The Virginian was lucky in that it had a cast that was constantly changing. Always new characters coming in. So even if the same plot popped up it might be happening to new characters and so not feel entirely tired.

   Still... eight years. No matter what some of the freshness is gonna go out of the show. After eight seasons it seemed like a good idea to make some changes to invigorate the show. Only, what changes to make? The cast was always changing so... can't change that. A change of setting wouldn't make much sense. I mean, what, the whole cast pulled up stakes and moved to Idaho? Cast change is out, location change is out... what do you change?

   How about the time? Jump the show ahead a few years. Gives you an excuse to totally makeover the characters. Hopefully you don't make them look stupid or silly... oops.

   Something else you can change is the format. Instead of having a show where each episode features the whole ensemble cast, why not have it where each episode focuses in on only a few of the main characters. More of a "spotlight on X character" thing. Only... the show is called The Virginian. Well that doesn't work. I mean, who is the focus of the show is going to change week to week. The Virginian won't even be in a lot of the stories. What to do? Hey! Change the name. It's not about the Virginian anymore, it's about the men of Shiloh so... hey, let's retitled the show The Men Of Shiloh.

   And hey! Guess what? You have now over-tinkered. The characters are a bit changed, the storytelling isn't the storytelling the audience has grown used to over eight years and, maybe biggest, ya changed the name of the show! Other changes might have had less impact than that big one. Because if you are a fan of a show, even if at the end it starts to suck you might keep watching just because you have watched it so long and you figure you'll stick with it to the end. If you rename the show? Those fans can bail because they stuck with their show to the end. You renamed it so now it's a new show. All fans of the old show are free to go and the new show, really, has to build a new audience. Only in this case the new show The Men From Shiloh is also, in a way, a reallllly old show. Who wants to sign on to watch a tired old show? The main event is over. The players just don't want to go home yet. After a year, the Virginian and his friends faded to black. Well... until the next time. I mean, it is The Virginian after all. Eventually somebody else will film it again.

Other Man From U.N.C.L.E. Crossover Links
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Please Don't Eat The Daisies

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