Temple Houston (TV series)
The Man from Galveston (1963)
Jeffrey Hunter, James Coburn, Preston Foster and Grace Lee Whitney in two clips from the movie that launched the TV series “Temple Houston” (1963-64).
Jeffrey Hunter in Temple Houston (1963)
Temple Houston is a 1963–64 NBC television series which has been called “the first attempt . . . to produce an hour-long Western series with the main character being anattorney in the formal sense.” It was the only show Jack Webb sold to a network during his ten months as the head of production at Warner Bros. Television. It was also the lone series in which actor Jeffrey Hunter played a regular part.
Due to interference from NBC upon the production team’s concept for the series, it is somewhat difficult to speak of a single premise for Temple Houston. In its broadest sense, however, it is a show based loosely on the career of the real-life circuit-riding lawyer Temple Lea Houston (1860–1905), son of the more famous Sam Houston. Aside from that general statement, though, there is little which binds all the episodes together under a common framework. The series variously cast the characters and situations in both an overtly humorous and a deadly serious light. Writer Francis M. Nevin asserts of the first episode: “Clearly, the concept here is Perry Mason out West”, going so far as to note that Houston’s court opponent “apes Hamilton Burger by accusing Houston of ‘prolonging this trial with a lot of dramatic nonsense’.” Later episodes turned Houston into more of a detective than a lawyer. Over the course of the series, the bulk of narrative saw Houston actually gathering evidence, rather than trying cases. In the end, the series largely eschewed criminal law in favor of overtly humorous plots, such as in the episode “The Law and Big Annie”, which saw Houston using his legal expertise to help his friend figure out what to do after he had inherited an elephant.
Inasmuch as the series was loosely based on an actual person, producers tried to avoid storylines that would embarrass the two children of Temple Houston who were still alive when the series went on the air.
Production – Pilot
The earliest known conceptual documents for Temple Houston date back to 1957. It took about six years for a pilot to be filmed. That pilot, The Man From Galveston, was filmed in March 1963, but was never broadcast on television. Instead, the 57-minute film was released theatrically in December 1963. A part of the reason for this method of release was because the series used a radically different cast; some were unavailable at the start of series production in August. Actor Jeffrey Hunter was the only cast member to star in both pilot and series, although his character was re-dubbed Timothy Higgins in the pilot when it was released as a theatrical film.
When a Robert Taylor vehicle collapsed in the summer of 1963, NBC suddenly had a vacant slot on its fall 1963 schedule. It therefore quickly moved Temple Houston forward. Houston had only about three weeks from greenlight to its first date of filming. At the time it was greenlit, writing—much less pre-production—had barely begun. In this chaotic three weeks period, the series underwent a dramatic concept overhaul. Hunter described the situation in a 1965 interview:
In the first place, we had no time to prepare for it. I was notified on July 17 to be ready to start August 7 for an October air date. When we reached the screen we did not have a single segment ready. It was done so fast the writers never got a chance to know what it was all about. We all wanted to follow the line indicated by the pilot film, which we thought would make a charming series. NBC, however, favored making it serious.
The series was produced by Warner Bros. Television and Apollo Productions, a company co-owned by star Jeffrey Hunter, who had demanded to produce it in exchange for a film and television commitment to Warner Bros.
By December 1963, the series was rated 31st of the 32 new shows that season. NBC then ordered a switch back to more humorous stories. The aim, according to Hunter, was to make something “on the order of Maverick,” but the change merely allowed the series to continue to the end of the season.