...what do you do when you're BRANDED

“Branded” starring Chuck Connors premiered as a mid-season program in January of 1965. “Branded” is the saga of Jason McCord, a Civil War officer who is the lone white survivor of the Battle Of Bitter Creek, a Little Big Horn-like massacre brought on by the mental deterioration of the General in command. It is commonly believed that McCord’s survival was due to cowardice, and after a court-martial, he is stripped of his rank and forced to leave the army.

The premise of “Branded” is similar to the plot of a “Rifleman” episode titled “The Journey Back”, wherein a neighbor of Lucas McCain is wanted by the army for having deserted, after finding himself the lone survivor of a similar famous massacre--in this case, “Willow Creek”, and believing that he would be accused of cowardice if found alive. The “Branded” premise is recounted in each episode during the program’s introduction. In the theme song by Dominic Frontiere (lyrics by Alan Alch), the tale is told of McCord’s survival of the Bitter Creek massacre and how he was unfairly accused. The song plays over the scene of the ceremony in which McCord is literally stripped of his rank, as his commander rips the decorations from his uniform and breaks McCord’s sabre in half, tossing the bottom half out of the fort gate. McCord stoically exits the fort. As the gates close behind him, he picks up the broken sabre and examines it closely as he ponders his fate. Essentially exiled, McCord travels the west from job to job, putting to use his army training as an engineer. Throughout, McCord is in a sense running from his undeserved reputation as a coward, but wherever he goes, it seems that his reputation has preceded him. Martyr-like, he suffers the outrages and attacks in silence, refusing to tell the story that could redeem him in the eyes of the public. Over the course of the series, many who start out hating McCord end up admiring him, or at least giving him the benefit of the doubt, as they witness him demonstrate courage and determination in the face of taunts and more deadly threats. Often McCord encounters individuals who are themselves facing situations that require courage and ultimately it is McCord whose actions inspire them to do the right thing. From time to time McCord encounters old friends who have not lost faith in him. In “The Mission”, it is in the form of Colonel Snow (Jon Lormer) who refused to believe the accusations surrounding Bitter Creek. The Colonel introduces McCord to President Ulysses S. Grant (William Bryant). President Grant would call upon McCord several times to go undercover, usually putting his reputation and dismissal from the army as a means to gain admission with groups who are at odds with the government in some manner. In “The Coward Steps Aside”, Johnny Crawford appears as a young deputy who isn’t about to take lessons in courage from Jason McCord when his town is threatened. This was the first dramatic reunion of Connors and Crawford since “The Rifleman”, and it would be some 25 years before the next. Johnny Crawford recalls the experience: “We were very fond of each other. He was the reason I was doing the show. He saw an episode that I could do and he said, ‘I want Johnny to play that part’. It was just fun playing a different role with him”. The creator of the show, Larry Cohen stated, “Chuck Connors wanted to give himself an entirely different look from “The Rifleman”, which I agreed was a good idea. Connors said ‘We’ve got to come up with something like the rifle. A weapon that I can play with’. So I came up with the broken sabre, which was cut down so he’d be able to throw his sabre, use that in fights, and give us something that would be symbolic for the show”.
“Branded” had been a top ten show and still was in the top twenty when it was cancelled, something unheard of today. The competition against “Branded” was formitable. CBS had Ed Sullivan, which was still a powerhouse and ABC had “The FBI”. The last show was telecast September 4, 1966. (Article taken from “The Television Chronicles”, Issue #11, October 1997).

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