The made for television movie has become almost obsolete in the current landscape of television programming. At one time there was an exquisitely balanced life of options for viewers. Comedy and drama series matched well with variety programs, specials and made for movies and mini-series. Thirty years ago the movie was such a powerful force in the ratings game that there were multiple numbers being programmed on a weekly basis. Many of these films became popular with viewers and spurred on water cooler conversation the following day in the office. "Go Ask Alice" was the first major treatment of drug use on television. "Mr. and Mrs. Bojo Jones" brought the unmarried pregnant couple into focus. "Brian's Song" became an instant classic that is still regarded by almost anyone who saw the original film as one of the great tearjerkers. The television made for movie had a great long run that brought many wonderful films into our homes.
The western was once a staple in movie making and in television program planning. The genre is now used mostly as a place where revisionist history has taken over and made for a new genre. The western isn't the western in the 21st century. Images of John Wayne still exist in the collector plate industry, but no one is out producing the style of film he once made. American Movie Classics has had tremendous ratings success programming old Wayne classics and even success with his lesser titles, but that still hasn't driven many classic style westerns into our theaters or our homes.
With the success of "Magnum, P.I. in the 1980's Tom Selleck used his clout to foster his love of westerns and turned several stories into successful made for television movies. Tom Selleck and his on-screen co-hort Sam Elliott had the looks and the vibe to do this. They looked like western stars. Their passion for the era translated well to the small screen and it afforded those of us with a passion for the American West to ride the trails once again with some good storytelling. I, for one, miss the western. I enjoyed last year's "3:10 To Yuma" starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale and even though it did relatively well at the box office it certainly didn't bust any box-office records. Too bad.
If you read my profile you will know that "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" is my all-time favorite movie. It's a movie I can watch and deliver the William Goldman written lines before Newman, Redford and Ross act them out. I've got this movie down as if it were my own life. Most people cannot remember their own life quite as well as I can remember every single scene from Butch and the Kid.
Of course, I grew up loving Newman since my parents were big fans. Newman had a great on-screen persona. He was cool. Not cooler than Steve McQueen (but then who was or is?), but cooler than everyone else at the time. Just visualize the way he placed his hand on his hip or the way he wore sunglasses slightly tilted on the bridge of his nose.
I fell madly in love with Redford as I watched his masculine, rugged, manly man on the big screen. Redford became my ideal. Every heterosexual woman I ever discussed films with had or has a thing for Robert Redford. If not, they are either lying, dumb or attempting to be different. I have an original poster from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I bought it on eBay. Perfection! The real Harry Longbaugh (The Sundance Kid) was an attractive man. He didn't look like Robert Redford, but then who does?
Last, but not least, I wanted to look like Katharine Ross. Katharine was one of those physically and naturally beautiful women that come along pretty rarely. A woman who both men and women like. The movie actresses from this era were pretty great looking in general. Ali MacGraw, Jennifer O'Neill, Candice Bergen, Jacqueline Bisset and Julie Christie were all pretty stunning, but as a huge movie buff the one I most wanted to look like was Katharine Ross. She was downright perfect. The All-American girl come to life (even though there aren't too many All-American girls who look like that). She had these luxurious long brown locks and delicate features with a smile that lit up the entire screen. William Goldman once wrote about how pretty she was. In hindsight, that was an understatement.
After "The Graduate," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Stepford Wives" you would have assumed Ms. Ross would have had one of the most significant careers of her generation, but it didn't happen. The 1970's were a great decade of filmmaking, but not a great decade for women's roles. Everyone pretty much ended up playing hookers and peripheral girlfriends and few people ended up having consequential film careers. Jane Fonda and Barbra Streisand were the big names of the era even if Faye Dunaway got the best roles ("Bonnie & Clyde," "Chinatown" and "Network.") In a note of film trivia - Fonda supposedly turned town all of these Dunaway roles.
Needless to say, Newman, Redford and Ross were three of the most beautiful people in film at the time, but in 1982 three of the most beautiful people on the television screen were Tom Selleck, Sam Elliott and Sam's wife, the slightly older, but still lovely Katharine Ross.
The other night I'm doing what I'm good at doing during the summer months - I'm flipping the remote. Nine times out of ten there is nothing I want to watch, but there it was on Encore Westerns - the 1982 telefilm, "The Shadow Riders." As I stated earlier, this was a time when both the broadcast and the cable networks were still making lots of Movies and Minis. Louis L'Amour has written so many western sage stories that he probably couldn't have named them all, but many of them translated quite well to the small screen and this was one of them.
Gorgeous man number one, Tom Selleck plays the brother who has just returned from fighting for the Union and gorgeous man number two, Sam Elliott was doing service for the Confederacy. Katharine Ross, the third component of the great looking trio is the love interest to her real life husband, Elliott.
I admit I wasn't paying much attention to the storyline of this film. I was far too engrossed at looking at the faces of the actors. I thought this was highly shallow, but I didn't care about the superficiality of my thoughts since I actually sat there thinking why are there no men out there that look like Selleck or Elliott. I'm not talking about the real world now since we have definitely become a less attractive society of late, but I'm talking about the movie and television worlds. I don't want to look at people that look like the average citizens of the world. I want to look at Tom Selleck, Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross. I had a thing for a guy back in college who loved Katharine Ross. He was like me - a big movie buff who loved Butch and the Kid! Needless to say, he had good taste, but now when I look back at it I will take it as a compliment since he had a thing for me too. Not that I looked like Katharine Ross, but I did have brown hair, green eyes and pretty good historical dental hygiene, so I guess I came about as close as he was going to get.
To make sure I say something other than give my opinion of how good looking these people were I will add that I thoroughly enjoyed "The Shadow Riders." Selleck and Elliott were their usual charming selves and the bad guys were stereotypical outlaws. I love that word - outlaw. It sounds so much more poetic than hood, gangster or thug. Geoffrey Lewis was always an outstanding evil type, although he is bested in this film by some far worse screen heavies. "The Shadow Riders" is engrossing and engaging; and quite honestly I could sit through it again which is my highest compliment for a 26 year old TV movie.
During my television career I've met lots of famous people and I've had the opportunity to meet both Selleck and Ross. I went up to Katharine many years ago while we were both at an environmental fundraiser (I went on the company's dime) and told her that when I was young I aspired to look like Elaine Robinson or Etta Place. She sort of looked at me like I was lost and kooky. I hear she's shy, but maybe she did think I was lost and even kooky. Sam Elliott was sitting right next to her, but since by this time he was looking more like the photographic images of Buffalo Bill Cody I didn't really care about telling him that I thought he was hot in "Lifeguard." About two years ago I saw her riding her horse up in the Malibu hills. I was riding and she was riding and I almost could hear B.J. Thomas singing a verse from "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head."
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to encounter the one time Marlboro Man, Tom Selleck on more than one occasion. I've ridden two elevators with him and I sat in one meeting with him (me and about 20 other people). That's not counting the number of times I saw him at our mutual favorite Italian restaurant. I will not reveal the name of it since I respect his privacy. Selleck isn't just the great male TV babe of all time he is also a very nice man who is a complete gentleman.
If you get a chance try to catch "The Shadow Riders." I noticed it ran again last night, so the odds are it will run again and maybe again on Encore Westerns.
I'm now off to the prairie...I have a horse waiting to stretch his legs.