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Series / Legend

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Legend is a science fiction Western television show that ran on UPN from April 18, 1995 until August 22, 1995. It was Richard Dean Anderson's first major role after the successful MacGyver (1985) series (like Legend a Paramount production), and also stars John de Lancie (who is known for playing Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation, also a Paramount production).

Ernest Pratt, a dime-store novelist in the old west, lives with his scientist friend Professor Janos Bartok in the small town of Sheridan, Colorado. The people of Sheridan mistakenly believe that Pratt—a drinker, gambler, and womanizer—is the audacious and pure hero of his novels, Nicodemus Legend. Bartok and his associate, Ramos, convince Pratt to assume the Legend persona while supplying him with Legend-like futuristic gadgets that they invent. Together, Bartok and the reluctant Pratt (as Legend), adventure throughout the west solving mysteries, capturing wrong-doers, and even making scientific discoveries.

Nothing to do with either of the films of the same name.

Legend contains examples of:

  • Actor/Role Confusion: Or 'author-character confusion' in this case.
  • The Alcoholic: Pratt can usually be found in saloons whenever he's on his own.
  • Antihero: Pratt is a cynical one, though still very much a hero due to Bartok's influence.
  • Artistic License History: Averted to a surprising degree as the majority of historical personages that appear on the show are fairly accurate to their real-life complexities.
    • Ulysses S. Grant's Presidency is shown to be riddled with corruption but he, himself, is honest. He furthermore is shown to be struggling with alcoholism but fully functional while under its influence.
    • George Armstrong Custer is shown to be a Miles Gloriosus self-promoter but genuinely concerned about the corruption in the War Department as well as devoted to his wife. His racism against Native Americans is shown to be something that he pursues for the "glory" but he attempts to make friends with non-local ones (much to Ramos' disgust).
    • Wild Bill Hickok is shown to be a man who more or less lives up to his legend but in declining health as well as ability by the time of his death. Many of the stranger elements of his character like never sitting with his back to a door are also Truth in Television. Except for him surviving Deadwood.
  • Becoming the Mask: Ernest Pratt is a writer in the Old West who creates a popular series of pulp novels featuring a dashing cowboy hero known as Nicodemus Legend. With the help of Bartok, a pesky, but clever, scientist, the author winds up taking on the role and identity of his fictional creation. And apparently, Pratt, who was pretty much a drunk and a jerk, finds that the selflessness and heroism are less and less of an act as time goes on.
  • Bribing Your Way to Victory: Pratt occasionally resorts to this with his publisher's money. In the pilot, when faced with a legendary gunslinger, he gets him a book deal for $2000. This notably is about 4 times as much as the gunslinger was being paid to kill him.
  • Cattle Punk: Pratt lives in a very oddball version of the Wild West with mad science, legendary outlaws, and bizarre adventures.
  • Dented Iron: Wild Bill Hickok is increasingly slow on the draw and his eyesight is failing him due to the advancing of his age as well as poor lifestyle choices he's made. He needs spectacles at the least and probably should retire before he's killed.
  • Dime Novel: Pratt makes his living publishing these. Humorously, he's actually not a Wild West author exclusively but implied to write science fiction novels in a Wild West setting even before he becomes aligned with a Captain Ersatz of Tesla.
  • Executive Meddling: In-universe example. In "Knee High Noon", the wife of his "son" and the aforementioned son keep insisting on changes to Pratt's document to increase the latter's role. This gets the kid fired and the entire idea of Nicodemus Legend Junior dropped by the publisher.
  • Expy: Bartok is a version of Nikola Tesla. Honestly, he verges on a Captain Ersatz since he was driven out of the city by Thomas Edison.
  • Faking the Dead: Wild Bill Hickok does this in the Legendverse using a bullet proof vest.
  • Frothy Mugs of Water: Since everyone in Sheridan knows that Nicodemus Legend is a teetotaler, the only way Ernest Pratt can get his whisky is to drink it out of a teacup.
  • Giver of Lame Names: Bartok gives overly long names for his inventions.
  • Gossip Evolution: A bank robber once nearly got caught because his horse balked in front of a woman crossing the street and wouldn't move until she'd passed. Witnesses thought that the robber had done it deliberately. Within a few weeks, the story had changed to the robber actively helping the lady across the street, and then to him giving her some of the loot to pay for her children's education. Eventually the robber decided that he liked being thought of as a Gentleman Thief and started acting the role.
  • Historical Domain Character: President Ulysses S. Grant appears in an episode, and Oliver Wendell Holmes is mentioned in passing.
  • I Have Your Wife: The plan of the rustles in "Knee High Noon" when Legend gets a unknown son. They kidnap the boy's mother as well, assuming that she's Legend's wife.
  • Instant Book Deal: Pratt gets out of a gunfight by promising the man who wanted to duel the famous (and fictitious) Nicodemus Legend a deal with his publisher for a book series about his real-life exploits. This is notably a Downplayed Trope because Pratt is a famous author and his company publishes the lives of gunslingers. The man in question was also one of the most famous still alive.
  • It Will Never Catch On: A woman tells the protagonist Ernest Pratt her life story, which sounds remarkably similar to Gone with the Wind. When Pratt's friend says it would make a good story for the dime novels he writes, Pratt replies that it would never sell.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Pratt is a hard-drinking, womanizing, and generally unpleasant jerkass. He likes doing the right thing when he can be browbeaten into doing it, though.
  • Safecracking: Janos tries to blow a safe using nitroglycerin. The safe goes through the roof of the bank and lands in the stable next door.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: During the episode Revenge of the Herd, Bartok creates a robotic analogue for the Arapho buffalo-goddess "Thunderhooves". After the machine briefly runs rampant, the local Arapaho chief muses, "I'd like to think the spirit of Thunderhooves took her form!" Come the end of the episode, the robot activates on it's own...
  • Magical Native American: Averted; Any depictions of Native Americans in the series shows them often making money off gullible tourists, and regularly mocking Pratt whenever he's trying to buy time.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: Nicodemus Legend is The Paragon and a hero of the Old West in books. He doesn't drink, smoke, gamble, or womanize. Ernest Pratt, his writer, is a Jerkass who does all of those things.
  • This Is Reality:
    • A in-universe one for the Legend book series. Pratt has to stop writing a manuscript because he realizes, mid-sentence, that his hang glider attack on the James Brothers would realistically end with them shooting him before he got close.
    • In "Knee High Noon", Pratt has to deal with constant Executive Meddling to incorporate a heretofore unmentioned son. Eventually, he gives in and submits the manuscript suggestions made by the boy as well as Stage Mom. Being as Pratt is a professional writer of no significant skill of an Escapist Character and they're amateurs looking for a payday, the result is dreadful and gets the idea of a Long-Lost Relative dropped.
  • Stage Mom: Legend is forced to deal with one and her Bratty Half-Pint son in "Knee High Noon."
  • Stealth Pun: John DeLancie as the Gadgeteer Genius who makes all the gizmos the hero uses. In other words, Q plays Q.
  • Steampunk: Bartok creates a series of amazing comic book-esque inventions to help Pratt be the hero he pretends to be.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork:
    • Pratt is fairly friendly to General Custer at first but their mutual animosity slowly grows from the fact that the former is a dime novelist while the latter is a vainglorious bigot. They briefly work together to uncover a conspiracy in the war department.
    • Pratt is forced to work with an actor playing his son due to his showbiz mom.
  • The Teetotaler: Nicodemus Legend is a Teetotaler. However, Ernest Pratt, the writer who portrays him, is an alcoholic. Because everyone in Sheridan thinks of him as Legend, the only way Pratt can get his whiskey is to drink it out of a teacup.
  • Telegraph Gag STOP: In the pilot, alcoholic dime novel hack Ernest Pratt is accosted by his agent about the publisher's demand he pretend to be the hero of his novels, Nicodemus Legend, to promote his flagging book series. At least the story takes place in the right period for telegrams (1876).
    Harry Parver: (reading from copy of telegram) Imperative you meet public appearance obligations, stop. Last Legend novel barely recouped expenses, stop. If contract not complied with, advance on next book forfeit—-
    Ernest Pratt: STOP!