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Bad Ideas in Television: Dusty’s Trail

November 18, 2009

Dusty’s Trail was a short-lived American sitcom that staggered through the 1973-74 TV season. Bob Denver played Dusty, the sidekick to a wagon-train leader on a journey across the Old West. When Dusty’s group is separated from the rest of the wagon train, he and his fellow castaways must struggle to survive, but in a goofy way.

The characters tagging along were a bit familiar: A rich man and his wife, a showgirl, an intellectual and a farmer’s daughter. Here, see for yourself:

I have very, very dim memories of this, because I think it was advertised in the comics I would have been reading around that time. Now that I’ve seen a bit of it, I know why it failed. It just isn’t funny, and it’s trying too hard to be Gilligan’s Island when it just couldn’t. Gilligan’s Island worked because Denver could play off the rest of the cast; this ensemble was weaker and his schtick just became tiresome and annoying.

Both shows were created by Sherwood Schwartz, so you can’t call this plagiarism. It’s one thing to adapt a popular idea — this was at a time when Gilligan’s Island reruns were dominating daytime TV — but it’s another to be so blatant about it. Schwartz went too far, became too derivative, and the show died as a result.

Gilligan’s Island had a strange kind of magic. It couldn’t work twice, and it didn’t.

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