'The Texas Wheelers': a Short-Lived Sitcom Co-Starring Pre-Fame Gary Busey and Mark Hamill

Young Gary Busey and pre-Star Wars Mark Hamill played brothers in ABC's forgotten, short-lived sitcom The Texas Wheelers.

Jack Elam, a character actor you might recognize from Bonanza, Gunsmoke and other Old West series, played Zack Wheeler, a widower who's returned home to raise his kids: Truckie (Busey), Doobie (Hamill), Boo (Karen Obediear) and T.J. (Tony Becker from The Waltons).

It was produced my Mary Tyler Moore's MTM Enterprises. While MTM's prior TV shows (The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show) changed the course of television history, The Texas Wheelers got destroyed in the ratings by NBC's newest sensation, The Rockford Files.

The Texas Wheelers debuted in 1974, shortly before Hamill's 23rd birthday. It ran for just four episodes that season before returning for four more in the summer of 1975.

The Wheeler children and their ornery, lazy father's lives play out in the fictitious small town of Lamont, Texas. Episode synopses promise stories built around Truckie Wheeler falling in love with a bookmobile librarian and Doobie Wheeler feeling repulsed by an x-rated movie. Both sound like weak misadventures compared to the calamities those weeks' TV Guide issues would've described for Jim Rockford.

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Despite being a ratings flop, some critics praised series creator Dale McRaven. For example, Jay Sharbutt of the Associated Press called it "one of the funniest, best-written shows I've ever seen" (as quoted in Television Obscurities' well-written series synopsis).

Those that did watch The Texas Wheelers' first run got exposed to more talents than the future Buddy Holly and Luke Skywalker. "Illegal Smile," the opening track of John Prine's self-titled 1971 debut, was the series' theme song. It's the one where Prine loses a staring contest to a bowl of oatmeal. The closing track of Prine's debut, "Flashback Blues," played during each episode's closing credits.



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'The Texas Wheelers': a Short-Lived Sitcom Co-Starring Pre-Fame Gary Busey and Mark Hamill