The 1950’s were truly the era of television westerns. Since these shows were easily produced and had a built-in audience, producers churned out countless ten-gallon, dust-kicking series. It was tough for any one western to stand out from the pack, but a handful of shows distinguished themselves by adding novel twists to the tried and true formulas. One shining example was Maverick, a witty show that took the western show concept and turned it right on its ear.
Maverick told the story of Bret Maverick, a card shark who lived during the Old West era. The show was originally a straightforward tale of his adventures, but it evolved when the writers began adding comedy into the scripts. Bret quickly became the television western’s first mercenary, a character who would help the forces of justice only if he stood to profit from doing so. When he did have to use a gun, he wasn’t much of a marksman. In fact, he was much more likely to slip out the backdoor when trouble began instead of sticking around for the fight.
The writers also added a straight man for Bret in the form of his brother, Bart. He was more conservative than the devilish Bret, but just as unlikely to join any fight that he could avoid. The two characters began alternating as leads on the show as they journeyed through small towns with odd names like Oblivion and Apocalypse. Along the way, they associated with fellow card sharks like Dandy Jim Buckley and Gentleman Jack Buckley. There was also Samantha Crawford, a lovely female rogue who loved to challenge the Maverick brothers to see who could out-con the other.
All these elements helped make Maverick a television western that stood out. Audiences responded to the mix of traditional Western adventure and good-natured humor, making the show an instant hit. Bret Maverick in particular became a hero for many armchair cowboys. As a result, the writers began to play up the comedy elements all the time, expanding the storylines to satirize other prime time programming—Maverick lampooned everything from Gunsmoke to Dragnet. The show would also use actors known for other roles, like Edd “Kookie” Byrnes from 77 Sunset Strip, for cameo roles designed to make viewers’ heads turn.
Maverick continued to enjoy solid ratings through the end of the 1950’s, but hit a snag in 1960 when James Garner (Bret) left the program over a contract dispute. To replace him, the producers introduced a new Maverick cousin, Beau. Beau had been to London for his schooling and returned home as a ‘proper English gentleman’ to tend to the family fortunes. This character was played by Roger Moore, who would move on to greater fame as James Bond in films like Live and Let Die and Moonraker. The show later added another brother named Brent before finally ending its run in the summer of 1962.
Since then, Maverick has continued to be a popular member of the cult television pantheon. Even today, it is a favorite in syndication. Its enduring status as a beloved show has also led to two short-lived follow-up series, Young Maverick and Bret Maverick, and a 1994 movie version of Maverick that featured original star James Garner alongside the likes of Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster. The remakes and follow-up prove that Maverick’s mixture of tumbleweeds and laughs was an enduring one indeed.
USA / ABC – Warner Bros / 124×50 minute episodes / Broadcast 22 September 1957 – 8 July 1962
Creator and Producer: Roy Huggins / Music: David Buttolph
JAMES GARNER as Bret Maverick
JACK KELLY as Bart Maverick
DIANE BREWSTER as Samantha Crawford
ROGER MOORE as Beauregard Maverick
ROBERT COLBERT as Brent Maverick