Wednesday, May 31, 2006

What Happened to “F-Troop”?

Okay, now for something completely unrelated to my life, but this has been bothering me for quite some time, and every time I think about it, I’m confused with today’s line-up of classic television shows: What happened to “F-Troop”? As far as sit-coms go, it’s a prime candidate for that sort of filler TV Land would love in their time slots.

What is “F-Troop”? Alright, if you’re asking this, just click somewhere else. That’s right, move on; I don’t think I want to share company with someone who can’t appreciate “F-Troop” for all that it had to offer America in 1965, after all, the show was so advanced as far as sitcom’s go that it changed our idea of what a sitcom should be. But what was it about? Well, this Civil War “hero” accidentally wins a battle against insurmountable odds by a sneeze… well, just listen to the theme song for the back story:

The end of the Civil War was near
When quite accidentally,
A hero who sneezed, abruptly seized
Retreat and reversed it to victory.

His medal of honor pleased and thrilled

His proud little family group.
While pinning it on, some blood was spilled,
And so it was planned he command...F-Troop!

Where Indian fights are colorful sights, and nobody takes a lickin',

When paleface and redskin both turn chicken.
When drilling and fighting get them down,

They know their morale can't droop.
As long as they all relax in town
Before they resume, with a bang and a boom...F-Troop!

Isn’t that a great synopsis for a television show? So what happened? Why is it that I haven’t seen an episode of “F-Troop” in nearly 10 years. “F-Troop” shot 66 episodes and the show was on for only two years, being canceled in 1967. Interestingly enough, the first year was in black-and-white and the second in color (as that should show you how transitional that time period was), but it wasn’t successful enough to make for a long-standing sitcom. There’s a simple answer for this. The comedy that is “F-Troop” was too advanced for its time (I think I said this before); and we can blame something dear to my heart: satire.

Discover the irony of the show: Becoming a hero by accidentally leading a cavalry charge the wrong way, Lieutenant Wilton Parmenter is given command of Fort Courage, yet he commands a bunch of cowards, who can’t even fire a cannon without knocking over the lookout tower (always my favorite). The Fort's crafty Sgt. O'Rourke has a deal with the local Hekawi Indians to market their wares to the tourists, but what tourists are in the old west? They must sometimes pretend to be enemies, and incidentally the Hekawi tribe supposedly derived their name when the tribe became lost, exclaiming “Where the heck are we?” which then became “We're the Hekawi.” Remember Wrangler Jane Thrift, named because she wrangled horses and sold goods at the general store, and how she was always out to marry Parmenter, yet he refused, even reluctantly? Seems unlikely (as she was the only woman within 100 miles), and remember the famous line, “Not in front of the men?” Played by aptly named Melody Patterson, did you notice that in the first season Parmenter never returned the affection, never kissed her back and never made any advances at all? Why? “Not in front of the men” was written into the show because, right before they started shooting, she revealed that she was not yet 18. The following season, she had turned 18 and Parmenter upped the affection.

Anyway, back to satire in the 1960.

In 1965, satirical comedy was nearly unheard of. People turned on the television to watch wholesome family-oriented shows like “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Mister Ed,” “Bewitched,” and silly shows like “Gomer Pyle,” “The Munsters,” “Gilligan’s Island,” and “Beverly Hillbillies” to name a few. There wasn’t a whole lot of room for a show like “F-Troop” (coincidentally enough, Tom Adair, who wrote many of the “F-Troop” episodes also wrote many episodes of the above mentioned shows). I don’t think people understood satire, and they couldn’t associate with the old west, even though many, many westerns were on TV during that era (though no dark comedies).

By 1965, five million color televisions had been sold in the United States, five times as many from three years earlier, and the networks packed them with westerns, “Bonanza” (1959), “Wagon Train” (1957) and “Virginian” (1962), and other shows that debuted in 1965, in addition to “F-Troop” were “Green Acres,” “Days of Our Lives,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” and “Get Smart.” And that’s the important show to compare with “F-Troop,” as “Get Smart” starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, as one of America’s first shows that was satirical, poking tongue-and-cheek at America’s new zest for spies, secret agents and espionage, fueled by the popularity of James Bond and the realism of the cold war.

It was just like “F-Troop” in many regards. “F-Troop” was a western comedy, the only one of its kind but what are they playing on TV Land tonight: From 6am Monday morning, there’s “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “The Munsters,” “Green Acres,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” all shows that would feel just at home sharing the air waves with “F-Troop,” but why isn’t it there? The short answer is credited to the sniveling politically correct bleeding hearts that like to ruin things for other people. “F-Troop” was last aired on Nick at Nite between 1991 and 1995, but too many viewers complained about the poor light the show showed to Native Americans (gag) so it was undoubted shelved.

As an appendix to this, I did a little looking around, and I discovered that only six episodes “F-Troop” (three from each season) were unceremoniously released as part of a Warner Home Video collection called “Television Favorites” on September 27, 2005. Based on the success of the sales of that collection (which included a host of other period shows), Warner Home Video announced that “F Troop: The Complete First Season” would be released in boxed set form on June 6, 2006, with all 34 black and white episodes included. Just on time for Father’s Day.

“F-Troop” might not be on television anymore, but it is still evident in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where much of the show’s exterior shots were filmed 40 years ago. Though the area is completely overrun with houses and neighborhoods, I’m sure folks living on Fort Courage Avenue and Chief Circle in Thousand Oaks are always wondering where their streets got their names.

I wonder what the people on Rockridge are watching right now? "Excuse me, while I whip this out."

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