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Series / Route 66

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Tod Stiles (left) and Buz Murdock (right).

A 1960–64 drama series on CBS, created by Herbert B. Leonard and Sterling Silliphant and starring Martin Milner (later of Adam-12) and George Maharis.

Route 66 chronicles two heroic drifters Walking the Earth (or at least the continental United States) in a Corvette convertible. Each week Tod Stiles (Milner) and Buz Murdock (Maharis) — the latter replaced late in Season 3 with a Suspiciously Similar Substitute named Linc Case (Glenn Corbett) — stumble upon different Adventure Towns and take odd jobs to support themselves while committing random acts of kindness, chasing skirts, putting right what once went wrong, wearing skinny late-50s ties, etc.

The show's writing, much of it by co-creator Silliphant (who later wrote the classic Oscar-winning film In the Heat of the Night), could be clever, nuanced, and heartfelt. And its format, which was essentially that of an Anthology with two recurring characters, allowed Silliphant to explore a vast number of topics as he felt like it. However, whether due to a changed social landscape, the dawn of a more cynical age, or the fact that invariably any drama will have scenes that miss their mark, the show is also the victim of extensive Narm; it was made in a period that still falls thematically into the era exemplified by The '50s (as opposed to The '60s).

Route 66 is also notable for heavily subverting Hollywood Atlas stereotypes, as the series had a roving production set-up and episodes were filmed on location throughout Flyover Country.

Route 66 provides examples of:

  • Adventure Towns: Real cities across the US serve this function as the two leads take odd jobs.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Tod and Buz pull this pose when outnumbered by a gang of hoodlums, complete with the camera panning around them.
  • Bifauxnen: Jan in "Sleep on Four Pillows".
  • Book Dumb: Buz. He claims he received a diploma without being able to spell "diploma", and in the first episode confuses the homophones "poor" and "pour": "We're P-O-U-R." On the other hand, he can spontaneously turn a phrase with the best of 'em, and later episodes show that with nothing better to do, he'll settle in with volumes of William Shakespeare or Hemingway. Buz's school career may have been lackluster, and his spelling terrible — but he seems to be doing just fine educating himself.
  • Character Filibuster: A feature of practically every episode ... these characters have thoughts and opinions, and aren't afraid to let everyone know about them in passionate detail. Fortunately, the filibusters are usually well-written and well-acted enough that it's actually charming instead of annoying. Usually.
  • Cool Car: Tod's Corvette, the last gift his wealthy father gave him before bankruptcy and death. Somehow he gets a new model every season.
  • Criminal Doppelgänger: "I'm Here to Kill a King" features an assassin who looks exactly like Tod and is played by Martin Milner.
  • Department of Child Disservices: Buz's experiences, and in one episode he almost cries because Tod returns a runaway orphan to a state-run orphanage. In another episode, he himself tries to bring a child to the attention of the authorities because of the boy's alcoholic father. That episode suggests that it would be better if Social Services Did Not Exist and that everyone's alcoholism could be cured with a simple moral lesson.
  • Family Versus Career: This is kind of the situation in "Poor Little Kangaroo Rat", where a Married to the Job scientist's wife threatens to take their son and leave him. Tod believes that family should be his first priority and finds his neglect of them disgusting. Buz solves the problem by reminding the man's wife that a woman's place is supporting her husband, no matter what financially precarious work he may choose.
  • Genre Shift: The series finale, the Season 4 two-parter "Where There's a Will, There's a Way", is a Screwball Comedy with a lot of Dark Humour. Tod marries Madge (Barbara Eden), briefly suffers a Disney Death, then wins a battle of wits with her murderous uncles and aunt. This involved getting one uncle eaten by crocodiles, another shot by firing squad in a Banana Republic, and the last one kidnapped by the Soviets for failing to provide a commissar with American lipstick.
  • Grand Finale: Tod getting married and Linc returning home to Texas.
  • Halloween Episode: "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing" (Season 3) has Tod and Buz encountering Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney Jr., who are concerned that their brand of old-school horror is lost on a younger and more jaded generation.
    • Also notable as being much Lighter and Softer than the typical episode of the show. There's a whole comedic B-plot around Buz acting as liason to a convention of beautiful secretaries at the hotel they're working at.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Tod and Buz. They have a joint bank account.
  • Hidden Depths: Buz is presented as a barely literate street-fighter type, but his narrations are just as poetic as Ivy League-educated Tod's.
  • In Love with Your Carnage: Mild case: when Buz comes to blows with someone, Tod likes to stop whatever he's doing and watch, often with a contented grin on his face.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: Composed by Nelson Riddle (see Pop-Star Composer below) after the show's producers decided not to pony up for the rights to the Bobby Troup standard "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66", it was released as a single and actually became a fair-sized hit, spawning an album of TV theme covers by Riddle named after the show.
    • And, in fact, the producers had originally wanted Andre Previn's "Like Young" to serve as the theme tune but couldn't get it, so Riddle (who had already been signed to compose the weekly scores – executive producer Herbert B. Leonard didn't like the idea of a Recycled Soundtrack, so both this series and his Naked City had original scores) was asked to write a piece in the same vein.
  • James Bondage: Buz and Tod take their turns getting captured and tied up, and for those who are into that sort of thing, Buz spends some time struggling in his bonds while tied down in "The Beryllium Eater".
  • Licensed Sexist: Buz Murdock. See the Family Versus Career example on this page.
  • May–December Romance: Buz gets involved in these.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Between swim trunks, lots of shirtless scenes and wet shirt scenes, almost every inch of the men gets its turn on display. Buz's tiny black Speedo gets special mention.
  • Mushroom Samba: "The Thin White Line"
  • Non-Idle Rich: Tod, before the family business collapsed around his ears. His father had him working on barges every summer, under Buz's management.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: George Maharis has a natural New York accent which carries over to Buz, but it's exaggerated in the first episode. His accent softens considerably when Maharis stops bothering.
  • Odd Couple: Tod came from a wealthy family, was classically educated in the best private schools, attended Yale, and when drunk he has the tendency to reveal what a toffee-nosed snob he really could be if he weren't so nice. That is, he tells 'hilarious' stories about free tickets to the opera and being on the fencing team, while Buz sits stone-faced because he is an orphan from Hell's Kitchen.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Buz, though revenge/seeking his true origins aren't (usually) on the schedule.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: The third season episode "Only By Cunning Glimpses" is one long OOC moment for Tod. The episode culminates in him physically restraining Buz from saving an elderly woman and a child from a burning barn because the resident Unhappy Medium / Phony Psychic has convinced him that is how Buz will be killed. Apparently he'd rather Buz live, forget the old woman and the kid.
    • In the final episode of the series, he and Linc rather casually get someone killed by an alligator. Yes.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Nelson Riddle, responsible for the show's jazzy theme tune, moved into television and film scores but rose to fame as a popular bandleader and musical arranger for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Nat King Cole.
  • The Power of Friendship: What keeps the two together, even though sometimes ideological differences push them toward Vitriolic Best Buds.
  • Product Placement: Tod's Cool Car. The Corvette logo on the hood is sometimes conspicuously center-frame. A number of guest stars drive Corvettes as well.
  • Put on a Bus: Buz. When Maharis became too ill to film his character is absent, but Tod has one-sided phonecalls with him. The character returned for a few episodes only to depart the show for good, so at one of those lonely bus stations Tod must have upgraded Buz's ticket to a Long Bus Trip.
  • Putting on the Reich: The cult of racial purists in "To Walk with the Serpent" wear black, belted uniforms.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Tod is deep blue, Buz is fiery red. Later on this dynamic is lost, because Linc is more of a blue as well.
  • Red String of Fate: At the end, Tod marries a Victorious Childhood Friend and settles down. Fate, in this case, is facilitated by a very exacting will.
    • Depending on your sensibilities, the suddenness and the Arranged Marriage aspect could make this a case of Strangled by the Red String, though it is largely keeping with Tod's tendency to fall in love very quickly and hard.
  • Revival: A very brief 1993 series starring James Wilder and Dan Cortese as Nick Lewis and Arthur Clark (with a Title Theme Tune by Warren Zevon). Making them....that's right.... Lewis and Clark. It starts when Nick learns about the father he's never met - Buz Murdock - and inherits the Corvette. He has an adventure with the wild stranger, Arthur, and they begin Walking the Earth themselves.
    • Seth Green had a significant featured role in the first episode.
    • The theme song was not a variation on "Route 66", but an original tune by Warren Zevon.
  • Sliding Scale of Silliness vs. Seriousness: The series slides back and forth. There is a barely-whitewashed episode about a drug addict, and a slapstick-filled episode with Buster Keaton.
  • Special Guest:
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Lincoln "Linc" Case, who does the dark and brooding to Tod's golden-haired also brooding. He pretty much picks up right where Buz left off.
  • Taxman Takes the Winnings: The 1993 remake starts the plot like this. Nick's estranged father dies and leaves him everything; after inheritance taxes and lawyer fees he actually owes a little money, leaving him with nothing except his dad's classic Corvette.
  • Television Geography: The show went a lot of places that Route 66 didn't... like anything east of Chicago.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Buz's eyes are often the source of comments.
  • Written-In Absence: Tod's phonecalls and letters to Buz during Maharis's hiatus.

...and no, we don't mean 8.1240384.