Huggins is a prolific and influential producer who created several
of the most enduring dramatic series in the history of television,
including Maverick (1957-62), 77 Sunset Strip (1958-64),
The Fugitive (1963-67), and The Rockford Files (1974-80).
Huggins has spent much of his 44 career in television as a producer
for two large studios, Warner Brothers and Universal. Working within
these studios, Huggins served as producer or executive producer
on made-for-television movies, miniseries, and more than twenty
dramatic series. While Huggins supervised a wide range of projects,
many of which were simply studio assignments, he was one of the
first writer-producers to emerge once television production shifted
to Hollywood in the 1950s. Many of his series bear the distinctive
stamp of his irreverent, self-deprecating wit and his fondness for
characters who operate on the margins of society.
a civilian employee of the U.S. government during the war, Huggins
spent his spare time writing hard-boiled crime fiction, inspired
by the work of Raymond Chandler. In 1946 his first novel, The
Double Take, was published. Huggins sold several serialized
mysteries to The Saturday Evening Post, and soon published
two more novels, Too Late for Tears and Lovely Lady, Pity Me.
When Columbia Pictures purchased the rights to The Double Take
in 1949, Huggins recognized an opportunity for more steady employment
and signed to adapt the script. From here he entered the movie industry,
working as a contract writer at Columbia and RKO. In 1952 he wrote
and directed the feature film Hangman's Knot, a Randolph
Scott western produced by independent producer Harry Joe Brown for
Columbia. Afterwards, he signed a contract with Columbia, where
he worked as a staff writer until 1955.
made the transition to television in April 1955, when Warner Brothers
hired him as a producer for its inaugural television series, Warner
Brothers Presents, an omnibus series which featured three alternating
dramas, King's Row, Casablanca, and Cheyenne. Huggins
agreed to produce King's Row, but after creating the series
he was reassigned to Cheyenne in order to salvage the faltering
series, which faced withering reviews from both critics and sponsors.
Huggins rescued Cheyenne by recycling scripts from Warner
Brothers movies such as Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948),
often simply inserting the character of Cheyenne Bodie (Clint
Walker) into familiar stories from the studio vaults. These changes
brought the series a measure of respect as an "adult" western and
made it the studio's first full-fledged hit.
immediately moved from Cheyenne to Conflict (1956-57),
a short-lived anthology series that alternated with the western.
During the production of Conflict Huggins met James Garner,
an actor who perfectly embodied his wry sense of humor. When Warner
Brothers asked Huggins to create a new series, he thought immediately
of Garner and tailored Maverick as a star vehicle. In a crowded
field of TV westerns, Maverick quickly moved into the top ten and
won an Emmy for Best Western in 1958.
was a refreshing antidote to the strained seriousness of so many
westerns, including Cheyenne, but it was also ground-breaking
because it redefined the heroic protagonist and brought a sly self-mockery
to television drama. For the first time, Huggins built a series
around a flawed central character, a reluctant hero who lives on
the fringes of society. Huggins wanted Bret Maverick to have none
of the "irritating perfection" of TV's western heroes. Instead,
Maverick is a much more complicated character than those found at
the center of most dramatic series up to that time. Although obviously
charming, he is an unrepentant rascal whose moral code is molded
by expediency, greed, and the need for self-preservation. As Garner
and co-star Jack Kelly, who played brother Bart Maverick, proved
adept at balancing a subtle blend of adventure and comedy, Huggins
guided the series in the direction of comedy. While generally sending
up the entire western genre, Maverick soon began to needle its more
serious competitors, offering razor-sharp parodies of Gunsmoke
and Bonanza. The touch of irony that Huggins brought to the
western genre in Maverick--an irreverent blend of drama and
comedy--has become one of the defining characteristics of dramatic
series in the subsequent years.
the second season of Maverick, Huggins created the detective
series, 77 Sunset Strip, which was based loosely on his novel,
Lovely Lady, Pity Me. 77 Sunset Strip revived the crime drama
on television, much as Maverick had revived the western, by injecting
a healthy dose of humor into a genre trapped in grim rites of law
and order. In place of the stolid cops who governed most crime series,
77 Sunset Strip brought the hard-boiled private detective
into the endless summer of Los Angeles circa 1958. Starring Efrem
Zimbalist Jr. and Roger Smith as private detectives Stuart Bailey
and Jeff Spenser, the series defined Sunset Boulevard as the epicenter
of hipness on television, a sun-drenched world of cocktails, cool
jazz, and convertibles.
77 Sunset Strip lacked the satirical edge of Maverick,
because after producing the pilot episode Huggins had no responsibility
for the series. Nor did he have anything to do with the clones generated
by the Warner Brothers brass--Hawaiian Eye (1959-63), Bourbon
Street Beat (1959-60), and Surfside 6 (1960-62). Huggins
also stopped producing Maverick after the second season,
wearied by the pace of production at Warner Brothers and by the
studio's tight-fisted finances. As a matter of policy, Warner Brothers
refused to share profits with its television personnel--including
Huggins, its most gifted and indispensable producer. Huggins was
directly responsible for the studio's three most successful series,
but was not even given credit for having created Maverick and
77 Sunset Strip, which studio executives claimed had been
based on properties already owned by the studio.
Huggins left Warner Brothers and in October 1960 became the vice
-president in charge of television production at 20th Century-Fox.
This proved to be a strange interlude in his career, because while
he was only able to place one series in prime time, that series
stirred up an inordinate amount of controversy. Bus Stop
(1961-1962), adapted from the play by William Inge, was set in a
small town in Colorado, a way-station on an otherwise endless highway.
The central location served as the premise for an anthology series
featuring the stories of wandering, disenfranchised characters who
passed through the bus stop. The program gained national notoriety
when an episode titled "A Lion Walks Among Us" starred pop icon
Fabian as a charismatic psychopath who commits several cold-blooded
murders. In the climate of criticism that was soon crystallized
by the chair of the Federal Communications Commission (Newton Minow's
"Vast Wasteland" speech), the episode became a target of television
critics and politicians, who seized upon it in order to decry television's
degrading influence on American culture.
by the criticism of the series, 20th Century-Fox placed Huggins
in a kind of administrative limbo by refusing to allow him to develop
other series and essentially waiting for his contract to expire.
Huggins used the unexpected free time to write a stinging rebuttal
of Minow that appeared in Television Quarterly. In writing
the article Huggins became one of the few members of Hollywood's
creative community to defend the artistic merit of commercial, popular
culture and to question Minow's essentially elitist criticism of
television. He criticized Minow and other cultural elitists for
allowing their contempt for kitsch--"their dread of being caught
in a profane mood"--to cloud their judgment. Huggins's essay amounted
to a sophisticated and subtle defense of popular culture in an era
when television producers did not make artistic claims for their
work. "The public arts," he wrote, "are created for a mass audience
and for a profit; that is their essential nature. But they can at
times achieve truth and beauty, and given freedom they will achieve
it more and more often."
the debacle at Fox, Huggins returned to graduate school at UCLA,
determined to get his Ph.D. and to leave television behind. He needed
a bankroll and came up with the idea of creating a series that he
could sell to another producer, then sit back and watch the residuals
roll in. This series was The Fugitive, which he sold to independent
producer Quinn Martin after overcoming ABC's initial resistance
to a series with an escaped convict as its central character. The
story of Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen), suspected of murdering
his wife and forced to flee the police while in pursuit of the actual
killer, carried the mythic resonance of quest narratives from The
Odyssey to Les Miserables. Huggins wanted to update the western
by placing its wandering hero in a contemporary setting. In transposing
the stock figure of the wanderer from the mythic landscape of the
West to the landscape of 1960s America, he created a new and unsettling
dramatic hero for television, a rootless, paranoid loner, the most
unsettled character on the New Frontier of Kennedy-era America.
The quest--the ongoing tension between pursuit and capture--was
new to prime-time series and gave The Fugitive a powerful
narrative momentum which paid off in the record-setting ratings
for the final episodes. The Fugitive did not exhibit Huggins's
characteristic sense of humor, but it developed his fascination
with heroic outcasts and revealed his skepticism toward what he
considered the American "cult of optimism."
In 1963 Huggins gave up his plans of graduate school and accepted
a job as a vice president in the television division at Universal,
where he spent the next 18 years. During this period, Universal
became the predominant creator of dramatic series, often accounting
for much of the NBC schedule throughout the 1960s. Huggins adapted
to the programming formats that evolved over the years at Universal,
producing series, made-for-TV movies, and miniseries. He began by
producing The Virginian (1962-71) and Kraft Suspense Theater
(1963-65). He created and produced Run for Your Life (1965-68),
a variation on The Fugitive in which attorney Paul Bryan
(Ben Gazzara) sets off on adventurous journey after discovering
that he has a mysterious fatal illness and only two years to live.
In 1969 Huggins set up an independent production company, Public
Arts, at Universal and began a series of co-productions with the
studio. He created The Lawyers segment of the omnibus series
The Bold Ones (1969-72) and produced several other series,
including Alias Smith and Jones (1971-73), Toma (1973-74),
and Baretta (1975-78). The crown jewel of Huggins's period
at Universal is certainly The Rockford Files, which he co-created
with Stephen J. Cannell. Huggins produced The Rockford Files
for only two seasons, but his influence is unmistakable in the self-deprecating,
slightly disreputable private eye played by James Garner.
In the late 1970s Huggins turned to producing miniseries, including
Captains and Kings (1976) and Arthur Hailey's Wheels
(1978). His association with Universal ended in 1980, when he left
to concentrate on writing. In 1985 he returned to television at
the request of his former protégé Stephen J. Cannell to produce
Hunter (1984-1991). Recent feature-film versions of The
Fugitive (1993) and Maverick (1994) have been fantastic
successes at the box office. Their success is a tribute to Huggins's
lasting importance as one of television's great storytellers.
Photo courtesy of Broadcasting and Cable
HUGGINS. Born in Litelle, Washington, U.S.A., 18 July 1914.
Educated at the University of California, 1935-41. Married: Adele
Mara. Worked as a special representative of the U.S. Civil Service,
1941-43; industrial engineer, 1943-46; screenwriter, 1952-55; producer,
Warner Brothers Television, 1955-60; vice-president of 20th Century
Fox Television, 1960; producer, MCA Revue, Universal Television,
1963-80; president of production company, Public Arts, Inc. in Universal
City, California; writer, director, producer for television, since
Warner Brother's Presents: King's Row (creator)
1955-63 Warner Brother's Presents: Cheyenne
1957-62 Maverick (creator)
1957-60 Colt .45 (creator)
1958-64 77 Sunset Strip (creator)
1961-62 Bus Stop
1963-67 The Fugitive (also creator)
1963-65 Kraft Suspense Theatre
1965-68 Run For Your Life (also creator)
1969-73 The Bold Ones
1971-73 Alias Smith and Jones
1974-80 The Rockford Files (creator)
1976 City of Angels (creator)
This is the West
1974 The Story of Pretty Boy Floyd
1976 The Invasion of Johnson County
1976 Captains and Kings
1978 Arthur Hailey's Wheels
1954; Fuller Brush Man, 1948; Good Humor Man, 1950;
Sealed Cargo, 1951; Woman in Hiding, 1949; Hangman's
Knot, 1952; Gun Fury, 1953; A Fever in the Blood
(producer only), 1961.
The Doubletake (novel). New York: Morrow, 1946.
Too Late for Tears (novel). New York: Morrow, 1947. Lovely
Lady, Pity Me (novel). New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949.
"The Bloodshot Eye: A Comment on the Crisis in American Television."
Television Quarterly (New York), August 1962.
Anderson. Hollywood TV: The Studio System in the Fifties.
Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.
David, and Robert J. Thompson. Prime Time, Prime Movers: From
I Love Lucy to L.A. Law--America's Favorite TV Shows and the People
Who Created Them. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press,
Stephen J.; Cheyenne;