There was a time when TV westerns like Gunsmoke had the most dominant presence of any genre in classic TV. Unlike today where reality shows take over the airwaves, back in the 60s and 70s TV westerns were practically omnipresent.
So many Westerns existed at the same time that it wasn’t unheard of for shows to cover similar grounds. Both in terms of themes and storylines, as well as scenery with many filming locations around Los Angeles hosting several shoots at once.
It wasn’t even out of the ordinary for different shows to share titles between episodes. You’d often see episode titles such as “The Marshall” or “The Hunter” with so much overlap occurring in the Western genre. But one highly specific episode title is shared between the long-running classic Gunsmoke, and the 60s family ranch drama The Big Valley: “The Odyssey of Jubal Tanner.”
Not only do the episodes share a title, but actor Peter Breck also appears in both. Breck played Nick Barkley in all 112 episodes of Big Valley. The classic TV series followed the wealthy Barkley family on their immense ranch. It was very popular during its original airing.
As it happens, two years earlier, Breck played the titular character in an episode of Gunsmoke also called “The Odyssey of Jubal Tanner.” The reason behind the coincidence? Both episodes were written by the same writer, Paul Savage.
What Are the Different Odyssey’s of Jubal Tanner
The episodes do share their title and a main actor. However, they do tell very different plots. It seems Savage double dipping the title wasn’t an attempt to recycle an idea.
In the Gunsmoke episode, Tanner is a resentful drifter who is attacked by a buffalo hunter. While he recovers in a nearby town, he meets a saloon girl named Leah, played by Beverly Garland. She is equally resentful of the world around her. They strike up an unlikely bond and paint a wonderful portrait of love in a standout episode of the long-running Western classic.
Two years later while Breck was starring in The Big Valley, he saw the return of Jubal Tanner. In “The Odyssey of Jubal Tanner”, an old friend returns to the Barkley ranch to buy a piece of land he was promised years before. In this story, Jubal Tanner is quite a lot older than the version Breck portrayed in Gunsmoke. This new version is portrayed by veteran TV actor Arthur O’Connell and also features Sheldon Collins, most famous for playing Opie Taylor’s friend Arnold on The Andy Griffith Show, as Jubal’s grandson.
Why did writer Paul Savage reuse the Jubal Tanner name? Perhaps he just really liked the name Jubal Tanner. It is a very distinct name that sounds quintessentially western. He may have also been inspired by the 1956 Glen Ford western, Jubal. No matter the reason, both episodes are worthy of recognition by western enthusiasts.