6 failed TV pilots starring Chuck Connors

After The Rifleman, he typically played the bad guy! And one of these shows almost killed The Rifleman.

Chuck Connors is one of those rare television stars to headline a handful of acclaimed series. Everyone knows him as The Rifleman, of course, but Branded cast him as another tough Western hero. In the Sixties, he also dabbled in legal drama (Arrest and Trial, a sort of prototype of Law & Order) and animal-friendly family fare (Cowboy in Africa). But they can't all be successful, or even make it to series.

In the following decades, however, the former good guy turns villain. He became frequently typecast as the baddie. Several of the failed TV pilots below feature him as such.

And speaking of villains, the first show on our list nearly killed The Rifleman. We begin in 1957…

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1. Big Foot Wallace


"Big Foot" Wallace was a real man, and no, he wasn't a Sasquatch. William A. A. Wallace served and fought as a legendary member of the Texas Rangers. In 1957, ABC shot a pilot about the man, a sort of Davy Crockett-type. "Hello, my name is Chuck Connors. It's going to be my privilege to play Big Foot Wallace for the next, oh, fifty years or so―leastwise I hear tell," Connors said to the camera at the start. "We're all pretty excited about this series, and I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you a little about our plans, and about Big Foot. Big Foot was a real and fabulous character, one of the most exciting figures in frontier history." The pilot never aired. (The website riflemanconnors.com has a good recap.) Even if it hadn't aired for "fifty years of so," it would have prevented Connors from ever playing The Rifleman, which kicked off the following season.

Image: ABC

2. Which Way'd They Go?


Well, this comedy did air — as an episode of The Rifleman. Yes, The Rifleman made a sitcom as a backdoor pilot for a potential spin-off. The silly tale of the hillbilly Jackman clan would not have starred Connors, but his Lucas McCain character appears in the episode, naturally. Western comedy is a harder genre to have stick, and always has been. The tone here felt a bit like Bonanza meets The Beverly Hillbillies. Perhaps it is not so shocking that Rifleman fans did not want to follow the Jackmans on the frontier.

3. Banjo Hackett


Ike Eisenmann was one of the ubiquitous child stars of Seventies television. Disney fans will know him from Escape to Witch Mountain, but we also fondly remember him from the fantastically titled Afterschool Special The Amazing Cosmic Awareness of Duffy Moon. Banjo Hackett aired shortly after those two films, and cast Eisenmann as the orphaned nephew of the title character (Don Meredith). Connors played the adversarial bounty hunter, Sam Ivory. He roughly dunked the teen idol into a watering trough. Eisenmann didn't take it too hard — he posted it on his Facebook page not too long ago.

Image: NBC

4. Capture of Grizzly Adams


This made-for-TV movie was an "attempt to revive the 1978 NBC series The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams," according to the book Unsold Television Pilots, 1955–1989. The plot was eerily similar to Banjo Hackett, with Grizzly fighting to save his niece (Kim Darby) from a bounty hunter, played by Chuck Connors.

Image: NBC

5. Lone Star


An attempt to revive Westerns for a new generation, Lone Star began its life as a gritty drama before succumbing to the buddy-cop action-comedy tropes of the Eighties. "We were doing a hard-edged thing, like Wanted: Dead or Alive," series costar Lewis Smith explained in the book Unsold Television Pilots. "The network stepped in and said the stars gotta smile the whole [bleeping] time… it was terrible." Connors, again, was the villain. The newspaper critics at the time called it "cookie-cutter," when the failed pilot was dumped in the summer. 

Image: The Morning Call / Detroit Free Press

6. Steel Collar Man


Saturday Night Live cast member Charles Rocket starred as a robot soldier in this — we hope — comedy. The opening credits are hilariously amazing, as Rocket jogs in place as a sort of "Six Hundred Dollar Man." It's so deeply Eighties and we love every second of it. Connors was the villain, yep, an obsessed government agent who hunts the android, as the robot man roams the country with a trucker. You know, that old chestnut.

Image: CBS

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RedSamRackham 9 months ago
* He'd be Lucas McCain forever so no subsequent series was ever as popular, not even Branded!
TomBrainard 9 months ago
In 1967-68 he played Jim Sinclair in "Cowboy in Africa" on ABC.

JDnHuntsvilleAL 23 months ago
I bet "Big Foot Wallace" would have made it if Sherwood Schwartz had been able to write the theme song for it. :-0
Lovingmylife 23 months ago
Chuck Connors was also in Werewolf starring John J York aka Eric Cord. In this show York was bitten by a werewolf Chuck Connors and he was searching for the head of the bloodline that created him. If he (York) could find the head of bloodline and destroy him/her his curse would be gone
scp Lovingmylife 23 months ago
The kicker for me was that Connors's character was Janos Skorzeny, which is an homage to the original The Night Stalker TV movie.
MarkSpeck 23 months ago
Lone Star sounds a little like Standing Tall, another TV-movie with Connors from 1978, where he played a land baron who was trying to get his hands on Robert Forster's ranch. It was a QM production, and I have a VHS tape of it. Standing Tall may have been a pilot as well, I'm not sure. It was the only thing Chuck ever did for QM.
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Diana 23 months ago
And I just reported you for spamming. No one cares about your BS & nobody wants to get involved in a SCAM.
sparsons62 23 months ago
It is Alan Autry. He plays Bubba on “In The Heat Of The Night”.
4dsc 23 months ago
He was in airplane 2 also. He played The Sarge.
LoveMETV22 4dsc 23 months ago
Thank you for that post. I didn't remember that until I read your comment.
phialpha 23 months ago
Conners was also in one of Fox TV's earliest weekly shows involving Conners as a werewolf. That was Conner's last show as he died during the shooting of the show.
MarkSpeck phialpha 23 months ago
Werewolf ran 1 1/2 seasons, from 1987 to 1988. Connors died in 1991.
Marksalit 23 months ago
Move Over, Daring. Doris Day and James Garner(Maverick).
cperrynaples Marksalit 23 months ago
It's Darling, not Daring! It was a reworking of Something's Got To Give, the movie Marilyn Monroe didn't finish! Bonus Question: Doris is stranded on an island with Chuck, but what MeTV star pretends to be Chuck when Doris wants to reconsile with Gardner?
cperrynaples cperrynaples 23 months ago
And another bonus: Lone Star featured Alan Audry, who appears on what MeTV show?
cperrynaples 23 months ago
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You're slightly off with Wally Cox! He would have played that role in SGTG, but in MOD it was Don Knotts! And yes, not only did I know that Autry was mayor, he also played in the NFL!
MarkSpeck cperrynaples 23 months ago
Didn't know about Autry being the Mayor of Fresno, but I heard that he became a Representative of his home state of Louisiana.
memaw1998 23 months ago
Besides The Rifleman, the best thing I ever saw Chuck Connors in was Branded. I used to know the opening song by heart.
justjeff memaw1998 23 months ago
...Branded! Marked with a coward's brand... What can you do if you're branded - and you know you are a man?...
cperrynaples justjeff 23 months ago
We had a schoolyard version of that song: "Branded...right on the side of his ass! What do you do when you're branded and you have to pass gas?"
bruceisloose cperrynaples 23 months ago
Ours was "Stranded......stranded on the toilet bowl......"
russhowe57 bruceisloose 23 months ago
What do you do if you’re stranded and you can’t reach the roll
LeeWithers memaw1998 9 months ago
One of the few Mark Goodson - Bill Todman Productions that wasn't a game show! (Others included "The Web", "The Rebel," and "The Richard Boone Show"! How about THAT for trivia?)
birddog 23 months ago
Never even heard of some of those shows. But Lucas Boy and Mark are cemented in the Western Hall Of Fame In my Views!! Btw Connors played a Bad Boy in "Roots" A Classic Television Event, What a great Show. Ordered Warner Home Video 6 Vol Set commercial free VCR Collection. Though that was a good investment a few Moons Ago RRR!!!
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Michael 23 months ago
Was it a pilot, or a movie that was turned into a tv show? It had only one kid, but there was a mother, and his father was a fisherman, not a ranger.

"Flipper's New Adventure" came next, and has a different actor for the father, but he's a park ranger, no mother, but still onky one kid. That morphs into theseries more directly.

Gentle Giant, another Ivan Tors film, was much closer to the series, Gentle Ben.

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