So with all the attention on Tarantino's Django Unchained (which I confess I've seen already and absoluely love – but I'll get to that soon in due time) one should keep in mind that the basic premise of a black and white team of bounty hunters isn't new at all. In fact there was a TV show based on the same premise back in 1968.
I wrote about it for the old S & A wesbite, and what better time to reprint it again. The show I'm referring to was the TV western series The Outcasts. And if you were a young, impressionable black kid back then (like me), this was simply THE SHOW. The "I-have-to-see-it-every-week-or-else-I'll-die" TV show.
A long time friend of mine and I still talk and reminisce about the show and the impact it had on us as young kids.
Even once, a few years ago, I was speaking on the phone with someone else and somehow The Outcasts came up. When I was finished, a white guy who was next to me and overheard what I was talking about said to me: “You were talking about The Outcasts?? God, I LOVED that show!” When a show made over 40 years still has that kind of impact, then you know it was something really special.
The show was on the ABC Network starting in the fall of 1968 and its premise was quite simple and effective. It dealt with two bounty hunters; a white Southerner and former slave owner, Earl Corey, played by Don Murray, who had lost everything during the Civil War and was reduced to being a bounty hunter for a living.
His partner was a former slave named Jemal David played by Otis Young (who passed away in 2001), who was also working as a bounty hunter with his newly won freedom. However this was no simplistic, love-thy-brother “why-can’t-we-all-get-along” sappy, uplifting show. Suffice it to say, David and Corey despised each other, but they were forced to stay and work together for survival, in a cold, brutal and unforgiving environment.
The show was, bluntly, about racial tension and conflict. There were episodes, for example, in which David got in trouble and Corey had to decide whether he should side with the white guys or defend his partner, despite the fact that he absolutely hated his guts.
David, on the other hand, was angry. I mean he was one really pissed off brother. I still remember one particular episode where the pair wound up on an old former plantation, where there was an ex-slave played by Roscoe Lee Browne, still rooting for the Confederacy. The hate and contempt David had for Browne burned a hole through the screen.
Needless to say, the show only lasted one season and was canceled after 30 episodes. It was too real, too raw for audiences at the time to take. And considering it premiered just a few months after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and with this country boiling over with urban riots, college student anti-war demonstrations, The Black Panthers, Richard Nixon as President, and watching American soldiers being killed and wounded in Vietnam, especially after the Tet Offensive (look it up), every night on the network news, The Outcasts was not the show people wanted to see.
However, audiences are even more timid today, and there’s no way a network would ever make a show like that again, except maybe HBO. It was a hard and uncomfortable reflection of the turbulent times that this country was going through. People today would rather watch NeNe Leakes than something that would really challenge them. Personally I think it's a conspiracy to lull people to sleep, and that’s our loss.
But The Outcasts is a show that begs to be released on DVD or at least syndicated on some cable network for people to discover it again. You don’t know what you’re missing.
Here are some scenes from the show: