The Big Valley is an American Western drama television series that originally aired from September 15, 1965, to May 19, 1969 on ABC. The series is set on the fictional Barkley Ranch in Stockton, California, from 1876-1878. The one-hour episodes follow the lives of the Barkley family, one of the wealthiest and largest ranch-owning families in Stockton, led by matriarch Victoria Barkley (Barbara Stanwyck), her sons Jarrod (Richard Long) and Nick (Peter Breck), daughter Audra (Linda Evans), and their half-brother Heath (Lee Majors). The series was created by A.I. Bezzerides and Louis F. Edelman, and produced by Levy-Gardner-Laven for Four Star Television.
|The Big Valley|
|Created by||A.I. Bezzerides|
Louis F. Edelman
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||112 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||50 minutes|
|Production companies||Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions|
Four Star Television
|Distributor||Four Star International|
|Original release||September 15, 1965 –|
May 19, 1969
The series begins about 6 years after the death of the family patriarch, Thomas Barkley. Although he is never shown in the series (other than a painting and a statue), the character of Thomas Barkley is referred to as a major plot point many times. The character of Heath Barkley is introduced in episode one as the illegitimate son of Tom Barkley. His presence and claim to the Barkley name is the focus of many of the dramatic plots in season one. While the successful and rich are often portrayed in present day as the unscrupulous villains, the Barkley family is portrayed as upstanding citizens of Stockton, models of justice and fairness, often going against popular sentiment to uphold the rights of the underdog.
In addition to the Barkley family members, the episode plots typically revolved around morally conflicted protagonists and antagonists, a common theme in the mythology of the American West in the 19th century.
The Big Valley was well known for its many guest stars, including:
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||30||September 15, 1965||April 27, 1966|
|2||30||September 12, 1966||April 24, 1967|
|3||26||September 11, 1967||March 18, 1968|
|4||26||September 23, 1968||May 19, 1969|
The TV series was based loosely on the Hill Ranch, which was located at the western edge of Calaveras County, not far from Stockton.[self-published source] The Hill Ranch existed from 1855 until 1931 and included almost 30,000 acres, and the Mokelumne River ran through it.[self-published source] The source is from an episode in which Heath is on trial in a ghost town with another man (played by Leslie Nielsen), and tells the judge how much land they have. Lawson Hill ran the ranch until he was murdered in 1861. His wife Euphemia ("Auntie Hill") then became the matriarch. During their marriage, they had four children, one daughter and three sons.[self-published source] Today, the location of the ranch is covered by the waters of Camanche Reservoir. A California state historical marker standing at Camanche South Shore Park mentions the historic ranch.
In the first episode, titled "Palms of Glory", the grave of Thomas Barkley (1813–1870) is shown after he is mentioned to have fought the railroad 6 years before. Later in the same episode, Frank Braun reminds Nick, Jarrod, and Eugene, "Six years ago, your daddy and mine fought and died for this," indicating the year is 1876. The episode "The Odyssey of Jubal Tanner" gives conflicting information. Audra states that her father died 6 years ago, which would—per "Palms of Glory"—point to 1876, but Jubal seems to imply that he has been gone 30 years since his wife Margaret Tanner's death, her grave marker showing that she had died in 1854, which would put the year around 1884. In the second-season episode "Hide the Children", Nick makes reference that President Ulysses Simpson Grant is in the White House. Grant's term of office was from March 4, 1869, to March 4, 1877. In the fourth- and final-season episode "They Called Her Delilah", the telegram Jarrod received from Julia Saxon dated April 27, 1878, can be seen on screen. In the fourth-season episode "The Prize", Heath buries the wife of an outlaw, adding a grave marker dated May 5, 1878. In the episode "The Jonah", the band at a town dance can be heard playing Johann Strauss II's "Emperor Waltz" or "Kaiser-Walzer". The waltz was first performed in Berlin on October 21, 1889, which, by the time it would have reached the American West, would indicate a time period of 1890 or later, much later than other historical references in the show.
While The Big Valley is set primarily in and near the city of Stockton, the filming of the series took place in Southern California. It was partially filmed in Wildwood Regional Park in Thousand Oaks, California.
Wilfred M. Cline, Technicolor associate cinematographer on Gone with the Wind (1939), was director of photography for several Big Valley episodes, together with Chas E. Burke. Nick's girlfriend in "The River Monarch" wears an open-weave/knit gray coat with red trim that was worn by Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Wilkes in the Atlanta train station Christmas scene in Gone With the Wind.
The theme music was composed by George Duning, who also scored the pilot and four episodes; Lalo Schifrin, Elmer Bernstein, and Joseph Mullendore also scored episodes. Paul Henreid, of Casablanca fame, directed a number of episodes.
The series’ main title theme and primary incidental music were composed by George Duning and feature sweeping musical elements highly reminiscent of classic American cinematic Westerns. For at least the first pilot episode, the theme song starts with a more relaxed woodwinds introduction leading into the title refrain at a moderate tempo. For the remainder of season one, the tempo is increased and the intro is shortened, with much more aggressive phrasing. For seasons three and four, the main theme was reworked again, with a much more brass-heavy orchestration. The final refrain (when Miss Barbara Stanwyck's credits are shown), includes an underlying Spanish rhythm outlined with tambourine that is similar to that of The Magnificent Seven main title. Therefore, at least three versions of the theme song were recorded for the series.
In 1966, a soundtrack album was released in both monoaural and stereo versions, featuring suites of various music cues from the series, re-recorded for the LP release (ABC-Paramount; ABC 527). The album featured the iconic main theme song, but at slower tempos, giving them a more cinematic mood. To date, the album has not been re-released on compact disc or streaming. In 1980, the LP was reissued on vinyl on MCA Records for the Japanese market.
Re-recordings of the main theme song to The Big Valley have appeared on several Western movie-music compilation compact discs, and can currently be found on most music streaming services.
Despite the series' popularity, its ratings never made the top 30 in the yearly ratings charts. The Big Valley was cancelled in 1969 as the TV Western craze began to fade, and to make room for more modern series. In Ella Smith's 1973 biography, Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck, Smith noted that The Big Valley had been cancelled by ABC mainly due to a poor time slot. In better times, the series had been enough of a hit to outlive various time-slot rivals during its run (mainly on Mondays at 10 pm), including The Jean Arthur Show, Run for Your Life, and I Spy. According to Broadcasting magazine (September 27, 1965), its debut episode (actually Wednesday at 9 pm, where the series aired for half the season) placed 39th in the Nielsen ratings for the week of September 13–19, 1965.
The Big Valley also was ranked as one of the top-five favorite new shows in viewer TVQ polling (the others were Get Smart, I Dream of Jeannie, Lost in Space, and F Troop). Early into its second season, The Big Valley was still a mid-range performer, placing 47th out of just 88 series during the week of October 28, 1966, which was higher than such shows as That Girl, Daniel Boone, Petticoat Junction, and The Wild Wild West. Even so, The Big Valley was popular enough to warrant at least three TV Guide covers. It also acted as a launching pad for two projected spin-offs from special episodes. A 1968 episode guest-starring Van Williams was meant to lead to a Rifleman-like series titled Rimfire. A March 1969 episode, "The Royal Road", guest-starring heartthrob Sajid Khan as a young rogue, was also hoped to lead to a series, but by that year, the rising popularity of CBS's The Carol Burnett Show — and vocal complaints by Joey Bishop, ABC's late-night talk show host, that the show's faltering ratings were not helping to provide his program with a proper lead-in — ultimately led to the drama's demise. In syndication, The Big Valley proved exceptionally popular in the United States, Europe, and Latin America.
In the comedy film Airplane! (1980), the wacky air traffic controller Johnny, played by Stephen Stucker, paid homage to Big Valley's penchant for big drama in one of his many asides. After Lloyd Bridges' character frets about a pilot who cracked under pressure, Johnny says: "It happened to Barbara Stanwyck!" and "Nick, Heath, Jarrod – there's a fire in the barn!" The Big Valley also has seeped into the darker cinematic subconscious. In Bug, an acclaimed 2006 thriller starring Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon as drug addicts, their characters spiral into a hallucination that leads them to imagine tiny bugs have invaded their dwelling, with one referring to the little critters as "matriarchal aphids" that act "like Barbara Stanwyck in Big Valley."
In 1966, for her first season as Victoria Barkley, Barbara Stanwyck won the Emmy for lead actress in a drama series. She was nominated two more times (1967 and 1968) for her work in The Big Valley and earned three Golden Globe nominations as Best TV Star for the part, as well (1966, 1967, 1968). On March 15, 1967, Stanwyck was named favorite TV actress at the Photoplay magazine awards, which aired as a special episode of The Merv Griffin Show (David Janssen of The Fugitive was named favorite TV actor). Richard Long helped present Stanwyck her Gold Medal at the event.
The Big Valley was also recognized during its run for its polished production. In 1966 and 1968, the American Cinema Editors named Valley the year's Best Edited Television Program (for the episodes "40 Rifles" and "Disappearance", respectively).
Dell Comics published a short-lived comic book for six issues in 1966-69. (The last issue reprinted the first, and came out two years after issue #5). All issues had photo covers.
Film columnist Patrick Goldstein reported in the Los Angeles Times in July 2009 that filmmakers Daniel Adams and Kate Edelman Johnson were producing a feature-film version of The Big Valley with production to begin in April 2010 in New Mexico and Michigan. In 2012, the aforementioned film version of The Big Valley, which was to have first starred Susan Sarandon and then Jessica Lange in the role of Victoria Barkley, was put on hold indefinitely after the film's would-be director, Daniel Adams, was indicted for fraud pertaining to two previous films and sued by investors in "Valley" who claimed foul, as well.
Several episodes of the original TV series have been combined into concurrent-running feature-length TV movies, while the notable two-part episodes, "Legend of a General" and "Explosion!", have also been made into feature-length TV movies. These have been issued as TV movies on DVD as a box set, along with seasons one and two.
On January 8, 2014, Timeless Media Group announced it had acquired the rights to the series. They have subsequently released seasons 2 & 3 on DVD. The fourth and final season was released on October 28, 2014.
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