On October 7th of 1960, the first episode of the TV series Route 66 aired on CBS.
It was a one-hour TV drama, and the first show of its kind.
The program follows the lives of two young men (Buz Murdock and Tod Stiles), who travel across the country in an old Corvette. Chevrolet was one of the shows sponsors. Could you guess? They meet all kinds of interesting folks across America.
The show may have been partly based on Jack Kerouac's book called On the Road, which tells approximately the same story, but featuring two different men. In any case, adventures with buddies and no responsibilities are the great American dream of young men everywhere.
Like Kerouac's On the Road, as well as TV shows such as Maverick, The Fugitive, and Then Came Bronson, it was all about men who had to keep moving on, if for no other reason, just out of a sense of adventure. The shows were all based on restless youth in search of meaning, accepting odd jobs along the way. That way, each episode could have a different supporting cast, and the supporting cast became more important than the lead players. Many other shows followed this same format.
The list of guest stars on Route 66 reads like a Who's Who of Hollywood. Many of the guest stars on Route 66 later became famous TV and movie personalities. Others were big stars of yesteryear on their way down. Among those who made guest appearances on the show were Ed Asner, Martin Balsam, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Barbara Eden, Buster Keaton, Cloris Leachman, Jack Lord, Walter Matthieu, Robert Redford, Soupy Sales, William Shatner, Martin Sheen, and many others.
The show was written and created by Stirling Silliphant, best known for an earlier TV series called Naked City. Route 66 is, in Silliphant's own words, “a quest through the perennially fascinating cosmos of personal identity.”
The real Route 66 was a two lane highway extending from Chicago to Los Angeles. It was, at one time, one of the major routes across the American southwest.
Route 66 (the show) was a serious drama with social realist pretensions. The show was filmed in 25 American states, and was always filmed on the road. That's what made it different from any other show. The show's cast and crew traveled from Maine to Florida, and from Los Angeles to Toronto. They taped 116 episodes altogether. Silliphant always arrived in each town six weeks early to write the script.
However, the states were so much less homogenous back then. You can't really do that anymore. Everything is so franchised now. Mom and Pop shops are a thing of the sweet, misty past. These days, everywhere you go, it's a Denny's.
They tried a remake of Route 66 in 1993, but it died after just a few episodes. The only thing it had in common with the old Route 66 was the Corvette. There's a time and a place for everything.