Monday, September 13, 2010

Killed in the Ratings: “Nakia”

(The sixth entry in a month-long series about American TV crime dramas that debuted with fanfare, but are now largely forgotten.)

Title: Nakia

Starring: Robert Forster

Original Run: 1974 (14 episodes, plus pilot), ABC-TV

Premise: Perhaps inspired partly by Tony Hillerman’s series of Navajo mysteries (which were just beginning to appear in bookstores at the time this show debuted), Nakia focused on the exploits of Nakia Parker (Forster), a full-blooded Navajo Indian in his mid-30s, who’s also a deputy sheriff working the small towns and dusty, rutted backroads of fictional Davis County, New Mexico. Parker often came off as an inscrutable character, voicing proverbs suffused with tribal wisdom (“The bear steals the honey, then complains to the Great Spirit because the bee is unkind.”). And he would struggle to find middle ground between what his heritage and culture taught him was right and the laws he’d sworn to uphold. There was no mystery whatsoever, though, about this man’s determination to protect his fellow Native Americans from racial injustice as he investigated criminal, domestic, and other cases in which they had a stake. That resolve incited opposition from some of Parker’s more narrow-minded white neighbors, and even from his boss, Sheriff Sam Jericho (Arthur Kennedy).

Additional Notes: Hollywood seemed determined during the early ’70s to turn actor Robert Forster into a big-name, small-screen leading man. Before being cast in Nakia, he’d starred in the equally short-lived TV series Banyon (1972), a much-better-than-average private-eye yarn set in 1930s Los Angeles. But it took some less-celebrated film parts in the 1980s and his Oscar-nominated performance as bondsman Max Cherry in Jackie Brown (1997) to really make Forster’s face familiar. What critical notice Nakia received at the time of its original broadcast frequently focused on its perceived relationship with the 1971 film Billy Jack. It is now remembered best, if at all, for its ground-breaking cultural slant. As the blog A Shroud of Thoughts put it, Nakia represented “one of the few times that a [TV] series set in the present day actually attempted to deal with issues facing Native Americans.”

Above: Nakia’s write-up in the September 7-13, 1974, Fall Preview edition of TV Guide. (Click to enlarge the image.) Below: The program’s opening title sequence.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like it was part Billy Jack, part Kung Fu.


RJR said...

This was pretty good, but not as good as Banyon. Saw both of them when they were first on.


AndyDecker said...

I liked Banyon, german tv retitled it Los Angeles 1937. And didn´t air 4 episodes.

Philip Marlowe PI with Powers Boothe was more interesting, though, as a period piece.