Sheriff-focused Westerns have taken many forms on television since the advent of that medium in the post-World War Two era. The long-running Gunsmoke (1955-1975) set its protagonist in Dodge City, Kansas, of the Old West, while the current series, Longmire (2012-Present), sees its sheriff dealing with crime in present-day Wyoming. One of the interesting frameworks for a sheriff-based Western series is when it is set in an era of transition, when the Old West gives way to the 20th Century. Nichols (1971-1972), starring James Garner, was one such TV show.
The back-story is that the lead character, referred to throughout the series simply as Nichols (Garner), has returned to his Western hometown in 1914, having served almost 20 years in the US Army. It is an aversion to the continuing development of weaponry that sees him end his service – he is troubled by a new form of machine gun. The town that he returns to is in fact named Nichols, having been founded by his family. Another family, the Ketchams, now dominate and the matriarch of that clan will blackmail Nichols into serving as sheriff by the conclusion of the first episode, placing the rival in harm’s way.
In his new position, Nichols refuses to carry a firearm and will alternately use transportation such as a motorcycle or automobile, in addition to a horse. He also becomes interested in a local barmaid (Margot Kidder). Here is one trailer for the series, having recently been re-introduced by the GetTV network:
Garner, who passed away in 2014, publicly claimed that the series was one of his favorite roles. After a run of 24 episodes, however, it was not renewed for a second season by NBC. A wide range of guest stars appeared in Nichols, including Jack Elam, Bo Hopkins, Scatman Crothers, and Strother Martin. In addition to studio sets in Burbank, California, filming of the series also took place in Tucson and Gold Canyon, Arizona. In the following GetTV clip from the first episode, Garner’s Nichols meets John Beck’s Ketchum, and leaves Kidder’s character nonplussed when refusing to get drawn into conflict over female attention:
Nichols can now be bought as a DVD set via various online retailers.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)