“Tod says I got unrest, ” muses Buz Murdock (George Maharis) in the 1960 pilot of Route 66 (“Black November”), explaining to an old mechanic in a small Southern town the reasons he and his buddy Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) climbed into a Corvette and set out on the road a few months earlier. “So what's wrong with unrest? It's as good as anything. Besides, we're all stuck with it”. 1 In 115 subsequent episodes over four seasons, that unrest pushed Tod and Buz (and, later, Tod and Linc Case [Glenn Corbett]) down untold miles of highway, through most of the continental US, into countless encounters with troubled souls. Television's seminal road series, Route 66 was remarkable for thoughtful character drama, its blending of series and anthology forms, and a groundbreaking cross-country location agenda. Unrelentingly restless and habitually bleak, Route 66 was the early 1960s' answer to both Kerouac and the Joads - not the usual stuff of prime-time adventure, to be sure. Shunning domesticity on a medium - and network - loaded with family comedies, echoing On the Road and anticipating Easy Rider, premiering at the dawn of the New Frontier and ending in the shadow of the Vietnam War, Route 66 occupies a unique place in both the television terrain of the 1960s and the popular culture of the road. In the following pages I examine Route 66 in an attempt to explain its distinctive use of the road as a story-telling device and thematic trope, and illuminate its singular search for meaning in 1960s America. Route 66's peculiar approach to series drama, and its employment of the road as a dramatic principle, were the product of a specific industrial moment, the essential starting point for our discussion.
Route 66's narrative design emerges directly from the conditions shaping Hollywood television circa 1960. The series draws on two somewhat antithetical trends prevailing in prime-time drama during that period, action-adventure and