Combat! Comes to an End
Toward the end of the fourth season Vic and I were having lunch in the MGM commissary. He was sitting across from me reading the Hollywood Reporter and he began chuckling.
"Whats funny?" I asked.
"It says here on the front page that Kirk Douglas is about to start his thirty-fifth picture."
I asked, "Thats funny?"
"Weve been picked up for next season, right?"
"Do you realize that at the end of the fifth year we will have made the equivalent of seventy-six full-length motion pictures, all on the same subject? And Douglas publicist is bragging about his thirty-fifth movie!"
In the fifth season of Combat! some changes took place. MGM doubled the rental prices on their sound stages and the back lot, so we moved to CBS studios in the San Fernando Valley, the site of the old Republic Pictures. They had a back lot that, with some rebuilding on ABCs part, sufficed for a French village and countryside. And we made the last year of the show in color.
Richard Caffey, the production head, who really had no artistic experience or training, became the producer. Gene had left, exhausted and slightly burned out. Many of our regular writers could do the shows to the level of quality we expected, but something was missing.
I dont know if it was the move away from MGM or our wardrobe changes that we were told were required because of the color film, or the fact that Gene wasnt producing (and probably rewriting) anymore. We were sort of coasting in neutral. I never felt that the quality we had in the first four years was upheld in the fifth. Color lost that gritty feeling you can get with black and white. I recently watched one of the color shows and there I am, in my wonderfully pressed green jacket in a combat situation and it looks as if the jacket has just been returned by the dry cleaner.
Everything in television was going to color and all ABC saw was four years of film they were doubtful would sell in syndication. That was over thirty-five years ago and reruns are still going strong. All over the world.
Vics and my contracts were due to expire after five years, the other guys contracts went for seven. ABC knew they were going to have to renegotiate with Vic and me. So instead of having to pay a little more money for holding onto Tuesday nights, as wed done for five years against everything the opposing networks could throw at us, they cut everybodys throats, including their own. It wasnt the first time something like that happened. Star Trek was cancelled after three years; the network was positive it had no more appeal.
One of our last segments had a whole cast of people Id never seen before, and I realized what ABC was doing. They were shooting a pilot about the continuation of the Second World War in Europe, on the cheap. If it sold theyd be able to eliminate all my footage, if not, they had a needed segment for the season. They werent really too different from Ziv. ABC dropped our show and "time slotted" the new entry.
That fall Garrisons Gorillas replaced us, with my performance cut out. The show lasted one season.