14 forgotten syndicated TV shows of the 1960s

These skydivers, cowboy detectives and deep sea divers didn't need a major network.

Images: The Everett Collection

Television producers today likely think, "Who really needs a network?" There are dozens of outlets for original programming, from cable to diginets to the web. Even YouTube creates its own television shows. Half a century ago, the TV landscape was much different, certainly much more condensed. It was tough to find airtime outside of a network. Tough, but not impossible.

The big three networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — dominated programming. That being said, there was still room for shows unaffiliated with a major network. First-run syndication shows began to thrive in the 1950s, especially in the Western and sci-fi genres, thanks to the pioneering Ziv Television Programs. The Ziv company churned out popular series such as The Cisco Kid and Highway Patrol. You can catch other classic first-run syndicated shows on MeTV, like The Abbott & Costello Show.  

The following decade, the syndication industry continued to create cowboys and action heroes for local stations around the country. Typically, first-run syndication is associated with game shows, and there are dozens of examples. However, we're going to stick with scripted television in this look back. Here are 14 overlooked first-run syndication shows from the fabulous 1960s.

1. The !!!! Beat

MTV? Bah. Music television peaked in 1965, when shows like Shindig!, Shivaree, Hullabaloo and Hollywood A Go-Go delivered hip live acts to hungry teens. The !!!! Beat came around a year later, hosted by the Nashville-based disc jockey Bill "Hoss" Allen, featuring a hot house band led by Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. This get-down leaned a little more blues and soul, showcasing talents like Joe Tex, Etta James and Otis Redding.

Image: YouTube

2. Blue Angels

Eat your heart out, Maverick. Long before Top Gun, pilots swooshed across the screen on Blue Angels, stories about the aerial aces of the United States Navy. The show is perhaps most notable for featuring some early work of Burt Reynolds, who turned up in a couple episodes.

Image: California National Productions

3. The Brothers Brannagan

Sibling detectives Mike and Bob Brannagan (Mark Roberts and Stephen Dunne, pictured here) solved cases around Phoenix, Arizona, in this cheapie mystery series. It did give Marion Ross, the future Mrs. Cunningham of Happy Days, some early work in two episodes. Oh, and Burt Reynolds also guest starred. He built his resume in syndication.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Coronado 9

On the heels of hep crime shows 77 Sunset Strip and Surfside 6 came Coronado 9, a detective series set in the San Diego suburbs. Former stuntman and cowboy movie star Rod Cameron headlined this production, playing a former Navy intelligence man turned private eye.

Image: NBCUniversal Television Distribution

5. Death Valley Days

The most successful property on this list, Death Valley Days dates back to 1930, when it premiered as a radio program. In 1952, the oater made the leap to the small screen, where it stayed in syndication until 1970. Yes, it lasted 18 seasons, yet it rarely mentioned in the same breath as Bonanza and Gunsmoke. When it comes to guest stars, it's hard to top the cast of DVD. Ronald Reagan hosted the anthology series from 1964–65, and acted in 21 episodes. Elsewhere, every rising star from James Caan to June Lockhart popped in. In the promotional photo here, for "Three Minutes to Eternity," you perhaps recognize Tom Skerritt and Forrest Tucker on the upper left. As with most anthology series, the quality of the tales varied, but at its best, this was one of the essential TV Westerns of the era.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. Diver Dan

A man in a diving suit, named Dan you might have gathered, talks to fish. Well, a cast of puppet fish, including Finley Haddock and Gabby the Clam. That's the gist of this once cherished children's program, which was developed from a comic strip called Fish Tales. The short segments were syndicated out to stations and sometimes bundled into 30-minute programs.

Image: Brian Cartoons

7. The Everglades

Ron Hayes starred as Constable Lincoln Vail, zipping around the Florida swamps in his airboat, solving crimes, preserving the land. Filmed on location in the Everglades, featuring local Seminole natives, Everglades! found a following by being slotted next to Flipper in many markets. Nature lovers could get a double dose of Florida wildlife. Oh, and guess who guest starred? Florida-raised Burt Reynolds, of course.

Image: MGM Television

8. The Jim Backus Show

Best known as the Millionaire of Gilligan's Island, not to mention the voice of Mr. Magoo, Backus headlined his own syndicated sitcom from 1960–61. Sometimes titled Hot Off the Wire, the sitcom centered around a man running a struggling news wire service. 

Image: The Everett Collection

9. Johnny Midnight

Veteran character actor Edmond O'Brien had made his name as a wonderful character actor in noir classics like The Killers, White Heat and D.O.A. In the latter, he got to show off his stuff as a lead, which perhaps led to his mid-life renaissance as the lead in this nifty little noir TV series. O'Brien played Johnny Midnight, a Manhattan detective lurking around his turf in the theater district. It was the product of Revue Studies, who had previously done wonderful work in the 1950s with Lee Marvin (M Squad) and John Cassavetes (Johnny Staccato) in similarly hard-boiled crime shows. They also produced the aforementioned Coronado 9.

Image: MCA Television

10. Mack & Myer for Hire

Two regular Joes — well, Mack and Myer — continually found themselves in slapstick situations as they picked up odd jobs. A bit of The Three Stooges here, a touch of Ralph and Norton on The Honeymooners there, the sitcom wasted no time in serving up cement mixers full of physical comedy. 

Image: Trans-Lux Television

11. Miami Undercover

Few men have ever thrown a punch as well as Rocky Graziano. The boxing legend slugged his way to the title of world middleweight champion in the 1940s. After retiring from the sport, he transitioned to television, intially comedy, believe it or not. He partnered with "Take my wife — please" comedian Henny Youngman for The Henny and Rocky Show. Later, he turned action hero in this Miami-set crime series. He played the strongman alongside P.I. Jeff Thompson (Lee Bowman). Pity the stuntman who might have accidentally caught one of his fists.

Image: The Everett Collection

12. Ripcord

Skydiving is the ultimate daredevil act. There's a reason why little plastic paratroopers were the most popular green army men toys. The danger of the act is alluring. What if the ripcord does not work? Such tension was the basis of this entire series, Ripcord, which starred thrilling skydivers played by Larry Pennell (Dash Riprock of The Beverly Hillbillies) and Ken Curtis (Festus from Gunsmoke). Do you even need to ask? Of course, Burt Reynolds guest starred.

Image: MGM Television

13. Sea Hunt

Lloyd Bridges might be most familiar to younger generations as the glue-sniffing traffic control tower supervisor in Airplane! A couple decades earlier, he was the hunky leading man of Sea Hunt, which originally ran in syndication from 1959–61 before cycling through reruns for years. Bridges played a former Navy frogman who seeks adventure aboard his boat the Argonaut.

Image: The Everett Collection

14. Shotgun Slade

As you can tell from title and wardrobe, Shotgun Slade was a Western, but a rather unique one. While set in the Wild West, this fascinating hybrid was a detective series, closer in tone of Peter Gunn with its jazzy score. Slade (Scott Brady) carried a unique modified gun, like fellow cowboy heroes Lucas McCain and Josh Randall. Slade's piece was even wilder, with a shotgun barrel welded to a rifle barrel. This show was all about hybrids. Somehow, it did not feature Burt Reynolds, however.

Image: The Everett Collection

Enjoy even more classic shows on-air! Find where to watch MeTV in Washington, DC