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James Garner is "Bret Maverick". Newspaper ad for the show.“Bret Maverick”

In October 1981, Brandon Tartikoff, president of NBC Entertainment, announced the decision to revive “Maverick”. James Garner stated, “I started thinking what Bret would be like 20 years later and the series would look like updated from the 1860s to the 1880s. I realized there were two generations who’d grown up never having seen me in the role, so I thought, why not? Let’s do it.”

The main cast of "Bret Maverick"--Darleen Carr, Ed Bruce, James Garner and Stuart Margolin.Garner had but one stipulation. He could not carry the entire show himself. The new version would need plenty of other characters. He simply was not physically able to be on screen an hour a week after six grueling years on “The Rockford Files”. So seven regulars were incorporated into “Bret Maverick”: singer Ed Bruce as Tom Guthrie (Bruce also sang the title tune “Maverick Didn’t Come Here to Lose”), feisty newspaper editor Mary Lou Springer (Darleen Carr), her young assistant Rodney Catlow (David Knell), irascible Cy Whittaker, foreman of Maverick’s Lazy Ace Ranch (Richard Hamilton), newly-elected Sheriff Mitchell Dowd (John Shearin), manipulative banker Elijah Crow (Ramon Bieri) and self styled Indian guide Philo Sandeen (Stuart Margolin).

Whereas Bret roamed from town to town in the original series, there were indications he eventually wanted to settle down. Bret does just that in the two hour color pilot of “Bret Maverick” which aired on NBC December 1, 1981. Bret rides into Sweetwater, Arizona Territory, to participate in a high-stakes poker game with legendary players Doc Holliday (John McLiam), Joe Dakota (Chuck Mitchell), Mandy Packard (Janis Paige) and others. After winning the $100,000 jackpot and ownership of Mandy’s saloon, the Red Ox, Maverick purchases a 100 acre ranch which he christens The Lazy Ace. (The Sable Ranch was the location used.)

This set the tone for the new series, Bret was a more mature, less-adventuresome Maverick but his sense of humor and friendliness were still there even though he was now a solid property-owning citizen. Nevertheless, the people of Sweetwater often perceive Bret as they think he is/was—according to legend—rather than accept him for whom he truly is. This thinking played out in several amusing episodes.

The initial episode, airing on Tuesday from 9-10, garnered a healthy 23.2 Nielsen rating but the curiosity factor soon waned. The show held its own against ABC’s comedy juggernaut of “Happy Days”, “Laverne and Shirley” and “Three’s Company”, but NBC tinkered by moving the series up an hour to 8-9pm in March ‘82 then back to 9-10pm in July ‘82. Realizing the series was a borderline case for renewal, producer Gordon Dawson used the final episode (#17—“The Hidalgo Thing”) to introduce drastic changes to the format if NBC renewed “Bret Maverick” for a second season. Bret would return to his roots by traveling more and brother Bart (Jack Kelly) would join the series.

James "Bret Maverick" Garner and his Lazy Ace ranch foreman Richard Hamilton.In 1992 Jack Kelly recalled, “The producers wanted me to do the last show of the season. It was for a 30 second cameo at the end of the show. At first I didn’t want to do it, but then Jim got on the phone and said, ‘Get you fat ass up here! We’ve written ourselves into a tunnel and you’re the only one who can trip the trigger on the joke.’ So I reported to the set at 7am that day and out of nowhere they wanted me to become the brother again and run the saloon while Jim was on the road doing his con-game routine.”

Garner also wanted Roy Huggins to return to produce the second season. Huggins wanted to think it over, he didn’t want to say no to Garner but as things turned out Huggins never had to give an answer as three days later NBC cancelled the series. Certain ‘powers-that-be’ were stunned, “Bret Maverick” was NBC’s 7th highest ranked show and Garner was the 8th out of 490 most popular stars in the country.

James Garner as Maverick had finally reached the end of a long Western trail—“the legend of the west” became an undeniable TV legend.

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