Route 66 is an American TV series in which two young men traveled across America. The show ran
weekly on CBS from 1960 to 1964. It starred Martin Milner as Tod Stiles and, for two and a half seasons, George
Maharis as Buz Murdock. Maharis was ill for much of the third season, during which time Tod was shown traveling on
his own. Tod met Lincoln Case, played by Glenn Corbett, late in the third season, and traveled with him until the
end of the fourth and final season.
The series is best remembered for its Corvette convertible and its
instrumental theme song (composed and performed by Nelson Riddle), which became a major pop hit.
Route 66 was a hybrid between episodic television drama, which has
continuing characters and situations, and the anthology format (e.g., The Twilight Zone), in which each week's show
has a completely different cast and story. Route 66 had just three continuing characters, no more than two of whom
appeared in the same episode. Like Richard Kimble from The Fugitive, the wanderers would move from place to
place and get caught up in the struggles of the people there. Unlike Kimble, nothing was forcing them to stay on
the move except their own sense of adventure, thus making it thematically closer to Run for Your Life,
Maverick, Movin' On,
and Then Came Bronson. Later examples of this traveling protagonist format are programs such as Bearcats!, Quantum
Leap, The Incredible Hulk, The A-Team, and Supernatural.
This semi-anthology concept, where the drama is centered on the
guest stars rather than the regular cast, was carried over from series creator Stirling Silliphant's previous
drama Naked City (1958-1963). Both shows were recognized for their literate scripts and rich
characterizations. The open-ended format, featuring two roaming observers/facilitators, gave Silliphant and the
other writers an almost unlimited landscape for presenting a wide variety of dramatic (or comedic) story lines.
Virtually any tale could be adapted to the series. The two regulars merely had to be worked in and the setting
tailored to fit the location. The two men take odd jobs along their journey, like toiling in a California vineyard
or manning a Maine lobster boat, bringing them in contact with dysfunctional families or troubled individuals in
need of help.
Tod and Buz (and later, Linc) symbolized restless youth searching
for meaning in the early 1960s, but they were essentially non-characters. We learn almost nothing about them over
the course of the series. All we are told is that, after the death of his father, Tod Stiles inherits a new
Corvette and decides to drive across America with his friend Buz. Tod, portrayed by clean-cut Martin Milner, is the
epitome of the decent, honest, all-American type. He is the moral anchor of the series. By contrast, the
working-class Buz (George Maharis) is looser, hipper, more Beat Generation in attitude. There were subtle
indications the Buz character was intended to loosely embody Jack Kerouac in appearance and attitudes.
Towards the end of the second season, Maharis was absent for
several episodes, due to a bout of infectious hepatitis. He returned for the start of third season, but was again
absent for number of episodes before leaving the show entirely mid-way through season three. Consequently, in
numerous episodes in late season two and early season three, Tod travels solo, while Buz is said to be in the
hospital with an unspecified ailment. Tod is often seen writing to Buz in these episodes, or having a one-sided
phone conversation with him. In total, Tod appears solo in 13 episodes during seasons two and three.
Buz made his final appearance in a January, 1963 episode, and was
then written out of the show without a definitive explanation. Then, after five consecutive solo Tod stories, Tod
gained a new traveling companion named Lincoln Case (Glenn Corbett) in March of 1963. Case is a darker character
than Buz Murdock, an army veteran haunted by his past. He's also more introspective than Buz with a sometimes
explosive temper, but he is nonetheless a reliable companion as the duo continues their travels.
The series concluded in Tampa with the two-part episode "Where
There's a Will, There's a Way," in which Tod Stiles got married, and Linc announced his intention to return home to
his family in Texas, after a long period of estrangement. This made the series one of the earlier prime-time
television dramas to have a planned series finale resolving the fate of its main characters.
U.S. Route 66 is well-remembered for its cinematography and
location filming. Writer-producer Stirling Silliphant traveled the country with a location manager (Sam Manners),
scouting a wide range of locales and writing scripts to match the settings. The actors and film crew would arrive a
few months later. Memorable locations include a logging camp, shrimp boats, an offshore oil rig, and Glen Canyon
Dam, the latter while still under construction.
The show actually had very little real connection with the U.S.
Highway providing its name. Most of the locations visited throughout the series were far afield from the territory
covered by "The Mother Road", which only wound through a total of eight states. The series, meanwhile, took place
throughout the lower 48 American states, and two episodes were actually filmed and took place in Canada. U.S. Route
66 the highway was briefly referred to in just three early episodes of the series ("Black November," "Play It
Glissando," and "An Absence of Tears") and is shown only rarely, as in the early first season episode "The
Route 66 is one of very few series in the history of television to
be filmed entirely on the road. This was done at a time when the United States was much less homogeneous than it is
now. People, their accents, livelihoods, ethnic backgrounds and attitudes varied widely from one location to the
next. Scripted characters reflected a far less mobile, provincial society, in which people were more apt to spend
their entire lives in one small part of the country. Obviously there were no regional barrier breakers like today's
Internet, satellite/cable TV or national radio talk. Similarly, the places themselves were very different from one
another visually, environmentally, architecturally, in goods and services available, etc. Stars Martin Milner and
George Maharis both mentioned this in 1980s interviews. "Now you can go wherever you want," Maharis added by way of
contrast, "and it's a Denny's."