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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. Let us now praise a TV program from the early 1960s.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: "Route 66" went on the air more than 50 years ago on CBS, and it did something few dramatic shows have ever done: it filmed entirely on the road, crisscrossing the United States, each week a new location, new characters, new situations. Well, this week the complete series has been released in a DVD box set. I watched a lot of these old shows, and there were a few key ingredients that held "Route 66" together. First, a great theme by Nelson Riddle.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Second, great scripts by Stirling Silliphant; third, a cool car - a Corvette - and finally, actors Martin Milner and, in this clip, George Maharis.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ROUTE 66")

GEORGE MAHARIS: (as Buz Murdock) Me and my buddy, we're conducting a private treasure hunt. We keep moving - place to place, town to town, Wyoming, Montana, Pennsylvania, Texas, the whole checkerboard. You see, we're looking, trying to find us that star. But when we do, we're going to grab a piece of it, stick it in the ground. Then we put up a sign: Home.

SIEGEL: George Maharis, who played Buz Murdock. Welcome to the program.

MAHARIS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: You actually went all over the country and it was shot on location.

MAHARIS: That's right.

SIEGEL: Very ambitious cinematography. I mean, the...

MAHARIS: Very.

SIEGEL: ...it's unlike nearly all other television that I could recall. But how quickly were these being produced?

MAHARIS: Well, they originally slated them for seven days but none of them got done in seven days. It usually took between nine and ten days a lot of the time. And, of course, that put us behind schedule, so we worked seven days a week to stay ahead.

SIEGEL: Now, I want you to describe you and Martin Milner, your costar. His character's Corvette. I want you to describe the other premise, which requires a slight suspension of disbelief here - the two of you are riding around all over the United States one short-term part-time job to another part-time job.

MAHARIS: I was working for Marty's dad, and Marty's dad died and left him nothing except the Corvette. And I have a conversation with Marty saying let's get in the Corvette and see where we belong. So, basically what we were doing was searching for the right place to stop and spend the rest of your life. Because beginning, when we first started the series, it was not called "Route 66." It was called "The Searchers." And, of course, that name was already given to somebody else, so they changed it to "Route 66."

SIEGEL: Now, we should say here that even in the first episode, given the title "Route 66," one thing was clear.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ROUTE 66")

MARTIN MILNER: (as Tod Stiles) How do we get off of U.S. 66, Buz?

MAHARIS: (as Buz) There's a town here. Maybe we can get through that way.

SIEGEL: You didn't follow the old Route 66, which went, according to the great song lyric, goes from Chicago to L.A.

MAHARIS: That's true. Guilty.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ROUTE 66")

MILNER: (as Tod) Look for a side road up ahead now anywhere.

MAHARIS: (as Buz) What river is that on? Pascagoula?

SIEGEL: The joy of watching these old episodes of "Route 66" is not only seeing who the guest stars are but seeing who the actors who weren't big enough stars yet to even be credited as guest stars. You worked with everyone.

MAHARIS: Yep, that's true.

SIEGEL: Robert Duval appeared in a couple of them.

MAHARIS: Martin Sheen.

SIEGEL: Martin Sheen.

MAHARIS: Jimmy Caan, James Caan.

SIEGEL: And at the beginning of one episode you see a young man in a suit - I might add a man with dark brown hair - running after a woman through the woods. It's Robert Redford.

MAHARIS: Correct. Inga Stephens, Suzanne Pleshette, Tuesday Weld - all of these people were unknown at that point.

SIEGEL: You also wrangled with a crazed young Leslie Nielsen.

MAHARIS: Correct. Where he thinks the end of the world is coming.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ROUTE 66")

LESLIE NIELSEN: (as Doc Duncan) Doctor Chris, but do you really believe it?

MAHARIS: (as Buz) I'm here, aren't I? I mean, if you really think there's something to all this, why don't you warn people?

NIELSEN: Because I'm told that in these times, there are certain things that are better left unsaid.

SIEGEL: Leslie Nielsen was still very serious.

MAHARIS: Yeah. Not only that, but he was wrong.

SIEGEL: You also had on the program an ornery Lee Marvin.

MAHARIS: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ROUTE 66")

LEE MARVIN: (as Glenn Ryan) Why don't the two of you clear out of here? I was out late last night, up early this morning.

MAHARIS: (as Buz) Why don't we try something first? Why don't we put you in there?

SIEGEL: You remember that?

MAHARIS: Oh yeah, I remember. I went and pushed him off the fence.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MAHARIS: That's right. Lee Marvin did two shows.

SIEGEL: You remember all these plots?

MAHARIS: Oh sure. They were good shows. I enjoyed them.

SIEGEL: Your character, Buz Murdock, he's supposed to be street-smart. And you're a tough guy. You're a fighter.

MAHARIS: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ROUTE 66")

MILNER: (as Tod) How's your lip?

MAHARIS: (as Buz) I've been hit harder by dames.

That's the pilot. That was Everett Sloan. He hits me in the mouth and Marty asks me, how's my lip. I said I've been hit harder by dames.

SIEGEL: That was three seconds. I could play anything from three years, three and a half years of this program, and you could call them right out what that was.

MAHARIS: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Let's see. We'll challenge you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ROUTE 66")

MAHARIS: (as Buz) Look, you want any help from me, you're going to have to crawl to me, X1.

That's with Robert Duval. It's called "Birdcage on My Foot." He's a drug addict.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ROUTE 66")

MAHARIS: (as Tod) You can't do it, packy(ph).

MARTIN SHEEN: (as Arnie) Can't do what job, man?

MAHARIS: I hear it's a five-hand hit for tonight.

That's the one with Martin Sheen and James Caan.

SIEGEL: But you do remember all of your lines from...

MAHARIS: Yeah. Well, pretty much.

SIEGEL: That's not bad. This was a time, 1960, 1961, '62, when the motor trip across the country, the drive around America, was a big deal. People were doing this at that time.

MAHARIS: Yeah. I can't tell you how many people wrote to me and told me that that's what they want to do after seeing the show and, you know, they wanted to buy a car and toot around.

SIEGEL: When you and Martin Milner would look at the shooting schedule for a season, would you say, oh wow, great, at least by week five we make it to Philadelphia.

MAHARIS: We never saw the schedule. It was week to week.

SIEGEL: You didn't know where you were going?

MAHARIS: No. We didn't know where we were going, and at many times we didn't know what the script was until two days before shooting.

SIEGEL: But I assume that for a run of a couple of months you would stay in one part of the country. I mean...

MAHARIS: Well, we would try to do three or four shows in the area but that didn't mean we had three or four scripts. And I remember we were in Cleveland doing the one with Nehemiah Persoff about the Russian hill. And we were standing on the bridge and we had no pages. We didn't know where to go yet. Luckily, they had to raise and lower the bridge. And in the meantime, the plane landed in Cleveland and a car took the script and brought it to us because we didn't know what clothes we were supposed to be in.

SIEGEL: It's a good thing you guys could pack all those clothes in the trunk of that corvette.

MAHARIS: Yeah. It was terrific. I enjoyed it. It really demanded that you make it work.

SIEGEL: Well, George Maharis, it's just been great fun talking with you and hearing all about the making of this terrific old TV show, "Route 66."

MAHARIS: Yeah, I'm a terrific old guy.

SIEGEL: You are, you are, if I may say so, too.

MAHARIS: Thanks a lot.

SIEGEL: Actor George Maharis. He's 83. He and Martin Milner starred in "Route 66," a TV drama from the early '60s. The complete series comes out on DVD this week.

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