Ohio66 presents an in-depth look at the circumstances surrounding the departure of George Maharis from route 66 in the middle of the third season.
Manners' Lament: It Costs 18G a Day Just to Keep 'Route 66' On the Road
"Route 66" has the road to itself and has shown dust to any possible competitors. But Sam Manners, executive in charge of productions for Herbert B. Leonard, thinks even "Route 66," now in its second season, will come to the end of the line in another year.
He thinks then it'll be time to change to something else, the meanwhile waiting for the gravy to pour in from reruns. And Manners thinks the new horizon for tv production is across the seas.
"Costs are pricing us out of domestic production," says Manners, whose crew has mad a four-script swing through Texas. "And there's an insatiable curiosity about what you could do with color abroad!"
Manners says production costs of "Route 66" leave little margin of profit at present. It costs $18,000 a day to keep the show on the road. At that rate, he doesn't look for many others to follow "66's" which have tried the "66" route - though not shooting wholly on location: "Follow the Sun," and "Straightaway."
Manners, who has been with Herbert Leonard eight years ("since the beginning") says "there are too many headaches" in road production to make it attractive to many companies. There are the unpredictable crowds who get in the shots, ruining some, providing invaluable and yet costless extras in others. There's the weather and the health of the actors to worry about, the constant search for the right building, the right street, the right local actor who can fill inn. (Some pros are flown in for one-shots).
But Manners admits there are built-in rewards in the system - such as the great promotional value in going to a town and shooting there a week.
"We leave a tremendous impact on a town," says Manners.
The girls come around for autographs of stars George Maharis and Martin Milner, the tv station takes film and the radio boys do interviews, the newspapers do stories with art, and there's much word-of-mouth publicity.
Naturally, the townsfolk watch for the show in their environs so they can "see the capitol building," a hometown store, an extra they know, or maybe their own face in the crowd.
Manners is also enthusiastic about the "fantastic sets and props" that a little digging in real life will turn up. In Austin, he was raving about the ancient garbage can which had been found as a prop for "The Most Beautiful Garbage Can in the World." Episode shows Maharis regaining his sight after psychic trauma and feasting his eyes on the can.
But when Manners says "shooting on location isn't the easiest way to make picture" he can back it up with some hair-raising tales of the pressure under which the headliner actors must work as they turn out an average of three hour shows a month.
"We have three shows in the can now," Manners said. "Last year when we wound up we were nine shows ahead." That was in the summer.
The crew and actors got a few weeks off before cranking up for the current series. Manners worked right on through getting ready for the next batch. "Route 66" is just one of his chores, since he flits between locations for the series, Hollywood where the programs are processed, and New York where he supervises another Leonard production, "Naked City." (He isn't griping: "If a man works hard and uses his head he can be a millionaire in this business," he says.)
Manners has high praise for hits "Route 66" bunch who must fit the company's formula of "ability plus compatibility."
He thinks his cameramen and production men achieve "the miraculous" in inventiveness, and produce a finished product which doesn't show the stress of time and location.
He is also very high on the technical laborers in the vineyards back in Hollywood, who must perpetually look like Santa's elves on Dec. 23 as they cut, score, dub, title, and add sound effects with one eye on the calendar - or clock.
Also of the whirling dervish school is the series' chief scripter, Sterling Silliphant, who has written 42 "Route 66" shows in two years. Silliphant has announces he plans to retire early and go yachting.
Manners feels the series has not only covered a lot of miles, bringing a unique amount of the nation's landscape into the living room, but that it has broken a lot of ground material-wise.
He points to what he believes were relatively bold shows dealing with a boy facing bar mitzvah; an all-Negro cast featuring Ethel Waters, an anti0bigot show done in Boston, "the heart of Birch country"; and a story dealing with paraplegics.
[editor's note: "The Most Beautiful Garbage Can In The World" was apparently a working title. It was later changed to "Even Stones Have Eyes."]
VARIETY - March 28, 1962