Rod Serling’s ‘The Loner’

Every Saturday, The Savvy Screener’s Boomer Box is counting down “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960s,” in reverse chronological order, as researched and written by Todd M. Pence.

#34: The Loner: ‘The Homecoming of Lemuel Stove’

Lloyd Bridges, The Loner, Rod Serling
Lloyd Bridges in ‘The Loner.’ Source: Wikimedia)

After The Twilight Zone concluded its run in 1964, Rod Serling turned his sights to creating a new TV series. His choice, oddly for some, was a format by far the most popular, most prevalent and most homogenous of the era – the western. Serling believed he could put his own spin on the genre by bringing his trademarked sense of intellectualism, morality and humanity to it.

In the fall of 1965, The Loner made its debut. It starred Lloyd Bridges as ex-Civil War soldier William Colton who, left without ties after the conflict ended, took to wandering across the country in search of a new life. It was a premise well-tread by other shows of the era: programs like Branded, A Man Called Shenandoah, The Guns of Will Sonnet and a half a dozen other series of the era I could name off the top of my head.

The Loner faced trouble right from the start, as Serling found his vision for the show subverted by a network (CBS) that wanted a more traditional western with fists and action over the more cerebral, talky scripts they were offered. It was as if Serling’s own Twilight Zone spoof of the western genre, “Showdown With Rance McGrew,” was coming back to haunt him.

Despite its troubled and brief existence, The Loner served up a masterpiece of television on November 20, 1965:

In “The Homecoming of Lemuel Stove,” Colton meets up with the titular character (played by Brock Peters), a black who is a fellow ex-veteran on his way home after serving three years in the war. Colton agrees to accompany him. But when the duo arrive at Stove’s homestead, they get a horrifying discovery – Stove’s father has been lynched by a local white supremacist group after a conflict with one of their number.

Consumed by hate, rage and the desire for revenge, Stove plans to take on the group single-handedly, while Colton attempts to dissuade him. Serling seldom wrote a script which hit with such force and honesty, or portrayed in such vivid and realistic terms, the ugliness of racial hatred and the depravities committed by its adherents.

The Loner would not survive its lone season and has since been consigned, like so many series showcased here, to the dustbin of history. A great number of the most steadfast Twilight Zone enthusiasts today are ignorant of its existence. Serling himself became disillusioned with the show in its final days and in the years that followed he would deem it a mistake. But “The Homecoming of Lemuel Stove” is left as a shining testimonial to what both the series and episodic television were capable of.

(Top photo: Brock Peters and Lloyd Bridges in ‘The Loner.’ Source: IMDb)

About Todd M. Pence

Todd M Pence has been an amateur historian and scholar of American television for the past 35 years. “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960” is the product of decades of research, not just in active viewing but in extensive combing of newspaper and magazine archives to read the original reviews of programs at the time they aired. He has also reached out to fellow television researchers to get their opinions. Pence maintains that the decade of the 1960's constituted the zenith of American primetime television drama, and that we will probably never see its like again. His purpose in compiling this list was to preserve this history and to spotlight many exceptional programs which have been forgotten and consigned to the dustbin of history. Pence holds a BA in Journalism from West Virginia University and has worked for the past 20 years in the Fairfax (Virginia) County Public School system

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