Retro Review: The Texas Wheelers – “The Music Box”

Retro Review is a monthly column that examines episodes of short-lived or obscure television shows. Each column includes both a summary and a review. Retro Review is published on the fourth Thursday of every month.

The Texas Wheelers – “The Music Box”
Aired Thursday, July 10th, 1975 on ABC
Written by Jerry Belson
Directed by Stuart Margolin

Color still from an episode of The Texas Wheelers showing the title card.

The Texas Wheelers Title Card
Copyright 1974 MTM Enterprises

Background

MTM Enterprises produced several big hits in the 1970s, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show. The Texas Wheelers was one of the company’s flops. Set in a rural Texas town, the sitcom focused on the four Wheeler children and their drunk, lazy father who returns unexpectedly and tries to insert himself back into their lives.

Jack Elam starred as Zack Wheeler, the father. Gary Busey and Mark Hamill played the oldest Wheeler children. Rounding out the cast were Karen Oberdiear and Tony Becker as the younger children. Barely a month into the 1974-1975 season, ABC cancelled The Texas Wheelers after just four episodes had aired. The network burned of four additional episodes during the summer of 1975, leaving five of the 13 produced episodes unaired.

Learn more about The Texas Wheelers by reading my Spotlight about the show.

The Cast

Main Cast
Jack Elam as Zack Wheeler
Gary Busey as Truckie Wheeler
Mark Hamill as Doobie Wheeler
Karen Oberdiear as Boo Wheeler
Tony Becker as T.J. Wheeler

Guest Stars
Charlotte Stewart as Charlotte
Eve McVeagh as Mrs. Klate
Clarke Gordon as Mr. Klate

Summary

The episode opens with the family waking up on a Wednesday morning. Youngest child T.J. doesn’t want to go to school. He says his hand hurts where the family pig bit him the day before. Truckie and Doobie, with the help of their father, convince him to go to school. Truckie and Zach then discuss the $50 they owe the doctor. Zach offers to sell his so-called heirloom pocket watch. He’s convinced he can get $60–even though the watch only runs for three minutes at a time.

Truckie drives Zach around town hoping to find a buyer. He eventually manages to sell it to a junk store. But the woman behind the counter will only give him $30 for it. Zach watches with interest as a horse collar is sold for $70. He decides he can make money selling the family’s junk.

With the help of his children, Zach sets up an open-air antiques market outside the house. Truckie and Doobie aren’t convinced their old junk from the barn will sell. Zach has hope, however. But when the first customers–Mr. and Mrs. Klate–want a rocking chair and there isn’t one for sale, Zach takes them inside the house. He offers to sell them the rocking chair the family still uses.

Color still from an episode of The Texas Wheelers showing Jack Elam as Zach Wheeler.

Jack Elam as Zach Wheeler
Copyright 1974 MTM Enterprises

Mrs. Klate spies a music box on the mantle. It plays the William Tell Overture. Zach happily sells it and the rocker and a velvet picture of Hawaii. Truckie points out that the music box belonged to Boo. She loves it. He gave it to her when she turned six. Losing it will break her heart. Zach promises to track down the couple who bought the music box and get it back.

Unfortunately, the Klates had checked out by the time Zach got to their motel. He returns home empty handed. Truckie forces Zach to tell Boo about the music box right away rather than wait until morning. To the surprise of everyone, especially Truckie, Boo doesn’t remember the music box. Truckie reminds her it was a birthday present and she admits she loved it when she was six, but that was a lot of birthdays ago.

Truckie and Zach continue arguing. Doobie tells them to stop fighting. They should be glad Boo’s heart isn’t broken. But the two can’t seem to see eye-to-eye about anything. Zach tells Truckie that one day he’ll learn not to assume kids feel the same way their parents do. Of course, Zach himself hasn’t quite learned that lesson yet.

Color still from an episode of The Texas Wheelers showing Gary Busey as Truckie Wheeler.

Gary Busey as Truckie Wheeler
Copyright 1974 MTM Enterprises

The next day, Boo demands part of the money from the sale of the music box and Zach gives her some. He thinks her request is proof she’s a Wheeler just like the rest of the family.

Quotes

Truckie: “What do you got? You got Mom’s buffet table. You got Doobie’s bronze baby shoes. I don’t like this stuff laying out here in the yard. It’s like we evicted ourselves or something.

Doobie: “Hey, I just sold the Victrola and all them back issues of National Geographic.”
Zach: “You didn’t sell the ones on Africa, did you?”
Doobie: “Well, yeah.”
Zach: “Damn!”
Doobie: “Well, shoot, I made eight bucks.”
Zach: “That’s all?”
Doobie: “That and Marilyn’s phone number.”

Review

“The Music Box” is the only episode of The Texas Wheelers I’ve seen. Unfortunately, the quality of my copy is quite poor. Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching it. I appreciated the lack of laugh track. It gave the humor a chance to sink in. Although to be honest, it wasn’t all that amusing.

Jack Elam does a fine job as the cantankerous patriarch of the Wheeler clan. His wild eyes and gravely voice give the character a tough appearance. Elam manages to soften the rough edges at times, like when Zach realizes he may have broken his daughter’s heart. But soon enough he’s trying to squirm out of telling her that he sold the music box.

It’s Gary Busey who shines here. Having looked out for his younger siblings after Zach abandoned them, Truckie feels responsible for them. He wants what’s best for them and he doesn’t trust his father to do the right thing. But he’s not the parent. He doesn’t have all the answers.

When he’s proven wrong about Boo being distraught about the music box, Truckie doesn’t know what to do. He refuses to back down and lashes out at his father. I’m curious to know how their relationship would’ve progressed had the series succeeded.

Color still from an episode of The Texas Wheelers showing Mark Hamill as Doobie Wheeler.

Mark Hamill as Doobie Wheeler
Copyright 1974 MTM Enterprises

Mark Hamill has little to do in this episode, sadly. Like Truckie, Doobie wants to help raise Boo and T.J. but he’s not as mature as his older brother. He seems more interested in girls than anything else. Karen Oberdiear, as Boo, spends nearly as much time brushing her hair as she does speaking. And Tony Becker pretty much disappears after the first scene.

It’s impossible to judge a TV show after viewing just one episode. But if “The Music Box” represents a typical installment of The Texas Wheelers, I’d love the opportunity to watch additional episodes.

Odds ‘n’ Ends

My copy of “The Music Box” features an ABC promotional spot for The Streets of San Francisco. It also includes commercials for Close-Up toothpaste, Datsun, Fritos, Kodak (with Mark Hamill), and Cheerios.

The name of the junk store is Funky Junk.

Truckie’s phone number, as seen on the side of his truck, is 1763.

Where to Watch

The Texas Wheelers is not available on any format. Check YouTube for a few clips.


Did you watch The Texas Wheelers on ABC during its brief run in the fall of 1974 or when it returned in the summer of 1975? Do you remember this episode? Hit the comments with your thoughts.


3 Comments

  • Karen Martin says:

    It’s been more than 40 years since I watched this show (back when I was in high school), so I basically just remember that I liked it and thought it was funny.

    I grew up in the country (now live in a small town) and in 1974 almost all shows were set in big cities, which I couldn’t quite understand. On The Texas Wheelers folks had to get in the truck and drive wherever they needed to go — just like in my real life. Sit-com families always stretch the bounds of “real life” but a redneck family with money problems, and country music on the truck radio, made more sense to me than and the city shows.

    I’m thinking that in 1974 and 1975 the only other series with rural setting were historical shows such as The Waltons, Little House On the Prairie, and Gunsmoke. The Texas Wheelers was alone in showing that during the 1970s there really were folks living outside of major metropolitan areas.

  • DuMont says:

    The major reason why ‘The Texas Wheelers’ failed was that it was scheduled terribly, a wistful witty dramedy sandwiched in between two science fiction series and up against NBC’s hot lineup of ‘Sanford & Son’ / ‘Chico & The Man’ / ‘Rockford Files’ / ‘Police Woman’.

    Just look at the flow and audience in-and-outs of that Friday fall schedule on the Alphabet:

    8:00 ‘Kodiak’ 9.9HH
    8:30 ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ 17.1HH
    9:30 ‘Texas Wheelers’ 11.0HH
    10:00 ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker’ 13.6HH

    Versus NBC:

    8:00 ‘Sanford & Son’ 29.8HH
    8:30 ‘Chico & The Man’ 28.6HH
    9:00 ‘Rockford Files’ 23.8HH
    10:00 ‘Police Woman’ 22.9HH

    When ABC brought back ‘The Texas Wheelers’ for a summer burn-off run, it got an OK 9.6HH but ABC wasn’t impressed enough to keep it on for its full run.

    Here is a reprise of my commentary in the Spotlight column from a few years ago:

    I think I only watched one episode of this series (one where the Dad was getting ready for a date) and I remember it being very authentic and brilliantly performed. But it was stranded on Friday nights in between ABC’s scifi series…it might have thrived better on Thursday nights at 8:30 pm instead of ‘Paper Moon’ in between ‘The Odd Couple’ and ‘The Streets of San Francisco’ and been a long-running utility player for ABC.

    I was always surprised that ABC (or CBS which had major deals with MTM) didn’t reprise this series a few years later for a summer run in 1977 when Mr. Mark Hamill’s career absolutely took off after the May 1977 release of STAR WARS. A reprise of the series would have allowed those unaired episodes to see the light, and it might have struck Nielsen paydirt the same way that CBS’s 1973 and 1975 reprise of ‘Dan August’ (cancelled by ABC in 1971) riffed heavily on Mr. Burt Reynolds ascendancy to movie star status.

  • barbarossa lewis says:

    this episode been on the trading circuit for over 20 plus years one of the collectors i get old tv shows. from still has this in his collection.

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