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

The Quest

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).

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.

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