Well, here’s a pleasant surprise! The final episode of Barbary Coast was shown on January 9, 1976, meaning it was probably filmed in November or so. This was possibly Spencer Milligan’s first role since finishing the second season of Land of the Lost that summer. It’s not a large part – sadly, most of his roles until he retired were bit parts as toughs and heavies – but it’s impossible not to enjoy stories where one of the heroes replaces a villain in a secret meeting, only to have his identity blown. Even better, Barbary Coast went in for slightly more complex plotting than many adventure programs, and this complication, which could have been amusing enough on its own (see this fine episode of Buck Rogers for one satisfying example) turns into an even bigger mess.
There’s also this gag about the brass bell of a long disused school which guest star Udana Power ends up buying. Even if Barbary Coast had disappointed me, which it certainly didn’t, it was worth all thirteen episodes and the movie to get to that gag. Power didn’t make many television appearances in the seventies, but I note that like a couple of other actors on this show, she had appeared as a guest star the previous season in producer Cy Chermak’s prior show, Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Sadly, Barbary Coast didn’t do well enough in the ratings to warrant any more episodes being ordered. It started the 1975-76 season on Monday nights, where it split the potential audience for lighthearted adventure shows with the David McCallum spy show The Invisible Man and both programs got clobbered by two top ten sitcoms on CBS: Rhoda and Phyllis. After episode seven, ABC made a curious decision and swapped Coast with another ratings-troubled show, a Jack Webb production called Mobile One, which had aired Friday nights at 8. There, the problem was on two networks: Sanford & Son on NBC at 8, and M*A*S*H on CBS at 8:30, but at least they weren’t splitting the audience potentially interested in an adventure show. ABC killed both Coast and Mobile One around November and they burned off their last episodes in January.
Westerns weren’t in vogue in 1975. Even the mighty Gunsmoke and The Virginian had ended by then. Coast was soon forgotten, not even serving as the butt of very many jokes. I’m very glad that I gave it a try, because I enjoyed every episode, and think that about three of them were completely terrific. Our son of course was pretty unimpressed. He liked this one, to the point of getting worried enough by the complications to temporarily leave the room with alacrity, and he liked episode ten, but overall he found this confusing and old hat, and greeted the news that we were watching the final episode of this show with a heavy sigh of “finally!”
I have assured him, however, that he is certain to love the next Western that we show him, starting in July. Stay tuned!