'The Quest': Tim Matheson Reflects on His Short-Lived Series With Kurt Russell

The Quest
Q&A
THE EVERETT COLLECTION

Tim Matheson sported a toga in the iconic big-screen comedy National Lampoon's Animal House and a slick suit in the award-winning TV drama The West Wing. Between 1969 and 1976, however, his signature look on three series was a cowboy hat. The Virginian and Bonanza were already well established, but the third Western was a less-than-one-season wonder called The Quest, which now rides again on getTV (repeats air weekend mornings). 

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The story follows Dr. Quentin Beaudine (Matheson) and his brother, Morgan (Kurt Russell), as they search for their sister; they believe she's still with the Cheyenne tribe that captured her and Morgan when they were young. The veteran actor tells us more. 

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What made The Quest different?

Tim Matheson: We basically took John Wayne's movie The Searchers and remade it as a TV show. It was an attempt to reboot the Western, to reach a younger audience and not make Native Americans the enemy. The funniest thing was, we were up against Charlie's Angels and we said, "Wouldn't [people] rather watch cowboys running around and shooting it up?" We learned quickly that we didn't stand a chance opposite it. 

The heart-pounding episode airing Aug. 30 ventures into Spaghetti Western territory. The brothers help a Texas Rangers captain (played by NFL great turned commentator Don Meredith) track a Mexican outlaw gang. Other guest stars include Gunsmoke's Mariette Hartley and Little House on the Prairie's Kevin Hagen.

Riding around on the back lot on Friday night, doing stuff that I used to do in my backyard [growing up] and getting paid for it…we had so much fun. And we worked with every character actor, former TV star and stuntman who had ever been in a Western in Hollywood. 

the quest

(Credit: The Everett Collection)

Several years earlier, when you joined Bonanza — a major hit with big stars — were you nervous?

It was very intimidating, and I made a lot of mistakes. I was quoted in TV Guide Magazine [in 1972] as saying that the time is over for this kind of Western. Michael Landon was furious! It took him a long time to forgive me. I learned a big lesson.

The Quest, Sunday, Aug. 30, 7:45am/6:45c, getTV