Friday, 15 August 2014

Nostalgic for my childhood - The Fall Guy

Last year, I started a thread called “Nostalgic for my childhood” (you can find the others using this link), covering books and films and various things that I remember fondly  It’s a thread I'm planning to continue anyway, but this edition sort of came out of the blue.

Those who follow me on Facebook will know I had a heart attack last week which meant I had to take it easy for while.  It just so happens that the week before that, I bought the season one box-set of “The Fall Guy”, having found it on ebay (I can’t remember now why I’d been looking).  Back in the day I loved that show and - trying to keep away from the news - I binge-watched it over the week.  Dude joined me for a lot of them and we finished the whole 22 episode run on Sunday and he wanted to go straight back into it, whilst I decided this was a prime candidate for my “Nostalgic for my childhood” thread.

“The Fall Guy” was a Glen A. Larson production (the early episodes have bronchial voice-over man saying that over the final production credit) that ran for five series (I’m English, it should be series and not seasons) from November 4th 1981 until May 2nd 1986 for a total of 112 episodes.  The genesis of it, according to Larson, came from his friend David Somerville (they used to be in bands together) who wrote “The Ballad Of The Unknown Stuntman” for a documentary in 1979.  Larson and Somerville pitched the series by playing the song and saying the hero was stuntman and bounty-hunter, which got them a greenlight.  Larson met Lee Majors in an airport (the two knew each other as Larson executive produced the early series of “The Six Million Dollar Man”) and signed him up without the star having seen so much as a script.  Majors went on to co-produce the show (“he ran the set well,” Larson said in interview, “everyone got on, it was relaxed and the work got done”), sing the theme song (which was adapted to include more current names), do a lot of stuntwork himself and lead a series that, he hoped, would clear Steve Austin from peoples minds.

For my part, I was a massive fan of “The Six Million Dollar Man” and Lee Majors was one of my favourite actors at the time, so he was completely my draw for “The Fall Guy”, as I’m sure he was for many other people.

The pilot episode was written by Larson and directed by Russ Mayberry and the remainder of the series was mostly written by David Brafff and Nick Thiel who, for the 1981/82 first season, also acted as script editors (they were replaced from the second series on).  Alongside the theme (credited to Somerville, Larson and Gail Jenson), US series stalwart Stu Philips provided the soundtrack.
The first series cast - from left, Heather Thomas, Lee Majors, Douglas Bar, Jo Ann Pflug
Heather Thomas makes her entrance
“The Fall Guy” was about a Hollywood stunt man, Colt Seavers (played by Majors) who moonlighted as a bounty hunter, mainly picking up bail jumpers who’d skipped on Samantha “Big Jack” Jack (played by Jo Ann Pflug in the first series - Markie Post as Terri replaced her from series two and although Samantha is mentioned, she’s never seen again), using his physical skills and knowledge of stunts to catch fugitives and criminals.  In the pilot episode, we’re introduced straight away to Colt’s young cousin Howie Munsen (played by Douglas Barr), who wants to be both a stuntman and Colt’s manager (Seavers often refers to him as “kid”) and is portrayed as a kind of educated goof at first (though his character matures across the first series).  We are also introduced to Jody Banks (Heather Thomas), a young stuntwoman Colt has taken under his wing and even though she’s often seen in the thick of film action, she doesn’t have a lot to do otherwise (in the first series at least) other than provide sex appeal.  She does have a moment, coming through some batwing doors, that not only became her credit clip in subsequent series but was also a defining moment for this 12-year-old boy watching.
series 2-5 cast, with Markie Post replacing Jo Ann Pflug
The first series opened each episode with an introduction from Lee Majors (as Seavers) explaining about stuntmen and that he couldn’t make a full-time living from it so also worked as a bounty hunter.  This sequence ran over stock footage of various stunts, from the 20s to the then-present day (the voice-over was dropped after the first series) and would usually segue into Colt filming a stunt, before getting caught up in a case with Big Jack that was always more complicated than it first appeared.  The stock footage was taken from real Twentieth Century Fox films (they distributed the TV show and their clearly-identified backlot was often seen in the episodes), including “The Poseidon Adventure”, “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry”, “Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid” and “Silver Streak”.  One clip, from the film “Sky Riders”, ironically enough showed James Coburn performing his own stunt, clinging to a helicopter skid as it flew high over a gorge.  The series also used stock footage from feature films to pad out/boost the budget in episodes.  Whilst this practise got more extreme the further into the run you went, it did also change the tone of some episodes.  In “The Snow Job”, for instance, avalanche footage from the 1978 film “Avalanche” was used, including some shots where the snow destroys a hotel that hadn’t been seen before.

As was usual in the 80s for series of this type, the car was an important part of the show (think Magnum and his Ferrari 308, BA Baracus and his van, Knight Rider and his Pontiac Trans Am) and The Fall Guy was no exception.  He drove a 1982 GMC K-2500 Wideside pick-up truck (interspersed, on occasion, with a 1980 K-25 Wideside) that looked fantastic, with a brown and tan two-tone paintjob and an eagle logo on the bonnet for the “Fall Guy Stuntman Association”.  The truck was often involved in high speed chases and huge jumps and these took their toll on the actual vehicles (one clip in the opening credits shows the axle clearly braking).  When the production had destroyed several trucks, GMC built a custom version with the engine moved back under the seats (“to properly balance it,” Lee Majors said in an interview), a reinforced frame, heavy duty axles and various other refinements.  After this, the number of trucks that had to be scrapped was greatly reduced.
The truck, in the first series, about to snap its axles...
The series was known for its frequent cameos by Hollywood celebrities (especially in the first series), with actors as themselves - everyone from Tom Selleck to Linda Evans - chatting with Colt Seavers.  In the pilot, James Coburn (a friend in real life of Majors) makes an appearance early on and there’s a touching scene near the end with Farrah Fawcett (who had separated from Majors by this time - in the late 70s, they were the ‘golden media couple’ and apparently remained friends until her death.  She appeared against her managers wishes to show the public they were divorcing on good terms).

The theme song became a minor hit in the early 80s (the singer is credited as Colt Seavers in a handful of the first series credits) and was very popular in Germany (though as Majors said in an interview, “everyone is popular over there”) and includes a nice touch in the lyrics with the line “I’ve been seen with Farrah”.

As I said, I was a big fan of the series - I had the annuals, a t-shirt and desperately wanted the truck - but I don’t remember watching it through to 1986 and, in fact, before we got hold of the DVD boxset, I only had sketchy memories at best.  The first and second series are available on DVD though the others haven’t been released “due to lack of demand”, which seems a real shame.

As I write this, Dude & I have watched all of the first series and six episodes of the second (which is a lot more humorous, in tone, with some great one-liners from Majors).  The first thing I noticed, binge-watching, is a key Larson trait, wherein quite a few shots are recycled over the year (generally of the truck driving about).  Locations are also re-used frequently, which can be quite entertaining and some actors also appear more than once and as a different character altogether.  Distinctive looking character actor Dennis Fimple, for instance, plays deputy sheriff Renfo in “The Pilot” and is also one of the Rio Brothers - Bobby - in “The Japanese Connection”.  Chuck Hicks, a big character actor regularly cast at the time as a heavy, was a recurring thug who our heroes usually encountered just in time for a brawl whilst Terry Kiser (who was Bernie in the “Weekend At…” films) was a director in “The Pilot” and a thug in “The Rich Get Richer”.  As a recurring character, Judith Chapman played Kay Faulkner, an insurance investigator, who tangled with Colt in “The Rich Get Richer”, “Goin’ For It!” and “Three For The Road” - all of them in the first season plus “Death Boat” in the second.  The series also featured some genre stars and they got plenty of good screentime, from Sid Haig to Martine Beswick, Chris Stone to Don Stroud.  An amusing, continuing joke is that the goodies listen to country music, whilst the baddies always listen to classical.

The cast have all said in interviews over the years that they not only got on well making the series but also still keep in touch.
Lee Majors, who was born in 1939, still acts occasionally, though he remains best known for his portrayal as Steve Austin (“The Six Million Dollar Man”) and Colt Seavers.
Douglas Barr was born in 1949, left acting in 1994 and now works as a writer and director and is also co-founder of Hollywood and Vine Cellars, a small, high-end Napa Valley winery.
Heather Thomas was born in 1957 and after a much-publicised battle with drug addiction left acting in 1998.  She is now a screenwriter, author and political activist.

I loved “The Fall Guy” the first time around and whilst it isn’t a classic piece of television (I’m a fan, not a fool), it is good fun and I enjoyed re-watching and re-discovering it with Dude.  Roll on series 2!

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And now, I leave you with the series 2 opening credits complete with Lee Majors singing, the truck breaking its axle, James Coburn on a helicopter and Heather Thomas giving her character a great entrance.

8 comments:

  1. I loved The Fall Guy. Like you I was a huge Six Million Dollar Man fan so was delighted when Lee Majors starred in another great show. Heather Thomas replaced Majors' wife Farrah Fawcett on my bedroom wall too. Already being a fan of Burt Reynolds in Hooper, a stuntman film they showed us as a treat in school, The Fall Guy was gold to me. Also at that time my dad used to take me to stunt shows. I once saw Eddie Kid jumping buses with my dad at a stunt show at Aintree Park once that was a highlight of my childhood.

    So great to read this Mark. It's brought back some fantastic memories for me and lovely to hear your own,

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    1. Thanks Tony! I loved "Hooper" too (my Dad took me to see it at the old Northampton ABC and line "kiss your ass goodbye" really made me laugh) and we went to a couple of stunt shows, but I'd love to have seen Eddie Kidd.

      Glad the post worked for you, lovely to hear your memories of the show too!

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  2. Cheers Michelle, Dude & I are currently halfway through the series 2 boxset and really enjoying it!

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  3. I remember watching The Fall Guy too. But my main favorites were Knight Rider, Air Wolf & The A- Team. Great shows from a great decade, even though I was born at the beginning of the 80's I still remember some things.

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  4. How about this for a flash back? I was in early grade school living in Tennessee when Highlander the movie come to television. I remember seeing the part where Brenda the police forensics was at the library looking up info on "Russell Nash" Connor MacLeod.
    Back then I thought this was kind'a stupid but I didn't really know what I was watching then nor did I know what it was about rather.
    Long and behold I later became interested in the TV series which then redirected me back to the same movie & it's sequels. By then I was a Highlander fan myself.
    Go figure what time can do for a person.
    I'm 33 going on 34 soon, I kind'a out grew the gaga watching Highlander all the time but if I have a notion to I'll pop one in and watch it.
    Through watching Highlander and an older sister taking Spanish then spawned an interest to learn things that are foreign. For example I took French in my Senior year of highschool and I learned some greetings in Bosnian while working in a factory.

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  5. It's very rare that you read anything about 'The Fall Guy', especially from the UK! Your rather lovely blog post reads like it was something written by myself and I've harboured the fan love for Colt Seavers for many years. Thanks for bringing people in on your trip down memory lane. Here's a little comedic article I wrote this year... http://www.garbage-file.com/2015/06/tv-fall-guy.html

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