Wednesday, January 18, 2017

NBC's TIMELESS Makes a Major League Error

NBC's latest television series TIMELESS
The good name and reputation of lawman Bass Reeves, one of the first African American U.S. Marshals, is going to be tarnished on NBC-TV this Monday. The weekly science-fiction program, TIMELESS, tells the story of a mysterious criminal who steals a secret state-of-the-art time machine, intent on destroying America as we know it by changing historic events of the past. Our only hope is an unexpected team: a scientist, a soldier and a history professor who use the machine's initial prototype to travel back in time to those critical events. While they must make every effort not to affect the past themselves, the intriguing aspect is that the fugitive is following instructions written in a journal (get this) written by the very history history professor who is trying to stop him. It seems she has not yet written that journal but one day she will.

Actor Colman Domingo
The television series was created by Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan, the same men responsible for such programs as SUPERNATURAL, REVOLUTION and THE SHIELD. Every episode is a history lesson for school children: a visit to the Alamo, America's moon landing, Harry Houdini, and this Monday an episode aptly titled, "The Murder of Jesse James." The teaser for next week's episode provides us with a glimpse of Colman Domingo,  a talented actor who only recently is getting his due, playing the role of Bass Reeves. Also featured in the teaser is one of the three main characters making reference to "The Lone Ranger." (...this is where you hear the sound of a record scratching...) Whoa, did he just say that? He sure did.

Sadly, the myth of Bass Reeves being the inspiration of the fictional Lone Ranger has been debunked many times through archival documents and the origin of that myth admitting he was only "suggesting," with no archival documents backing his claim. But that has not stopped history revisionists who attempt to tarnish the images of American heroes by dominating the broadcast media. And the media, aware of such errors, will never let the facts spoil a good story. As a friend once said, let us not forget the two old maxims that Hollywood clings to quite tenaciously:

1. Never let facts get in the way of a good story.

2. When choosing between history and legend -- print the legend. 

With no other choice I took the time to write to the production company. Not that it would make any difference to the telecast but I felt it was necessary for them to be aware of their major blunder. I have no doubt the primary focus of the episode concerns the accomplishments of Bass Reeves but I fear they will be overshadowed by a false story that has no bearing on Reeves' achievements. 

Kripke Enterprises
Eric Kripke
1880 Century Park East, Suite 950
Los Angeles, CA 90067

Dear Mr. Kripke,

My name is Martin Grams, historian of numerous vintage television and radio programs, including THE LONE RANGER. I regret to inform you that your weekly NBC-TV series, TIMELESS, has made a major error and sadly, may have inadvertently re-written history itself much like the characters of your television program.

This coming Monday you plan to air an episode which your lead protagonists meet with Bass Reeves, one of the first African American U.S. Marshals in recorded history. In 2008, an author wrote and published a biography about Bass Reeves and featured a chapter claiming “uncanny similarities” including (and I am quoting the author here) “Reeves may have ridden a white horse during one period of his career.” Also quoting the author, “I doubt we would be able to prove conclusively that Reeves was the inspiration for THE LONE RANGER. We can, however, say unequivocally that Bass Reeves is the closest real person to resemble the fictional Lone Ranger.”

When the Disney motion-picture of the same name was released in theaters a few years ago, the author rode the coat-tails of the movie’s publicity by claiming Bass Reeves was the inspiration of THE LONE RANGER, failing to note publicly that his book only suggests. Numerous websites quickly picked up on this story proving the academic adage that "fifteen books can be wrong and hundreds of websites are wrong." Historians often avoid “suggesting” non-conclusive material in fear that it would be mistaken as the gospel and create the exact opposite of what they set out to do.

Having scanned thousands of archival documents from the Fran Striker and George W. Trendle archives, including inter-office memos and contracts, I can assure you that Bass Reeves had nothing to do with THE LONE RANGER. Every aspect of The Lone Ranger was created by multiple parties. The director, Jim Jewell, requested Striker to create an Indian sidekick. It was Striker who created the name “Tonto.” Trendle, the producer, suggested a Western and a masked-vigilante in the vein of Robin Hood and Zorro. Striker borrowed a masked vigilante story from a former radio program, COVERED WAGON DAYS, to create The Lone Ranger character. I and my co-author, Terry Salomonson, have posted hundreds of archival documents verifying this on blogs and magazine articles, revealing the step-by-step process of how THE LONE RANGER was created.

What the author set out to do was Transmedial Migration. That is, properties of fictional characters as they relate to real-life historical figures. Burton chose to find a connection from fiction to real-life, not the other way around as any real historian of American History will assert.

Even Bill O’Reilly, who lent his name to a book and documentary series about Wild West heroes, later confessed the connection between Bass Reeves and The Lone Ranger was in error.

I know your time travel program is pure fiction, borrowing factual names and events for your stories, but your telecast on Monday evening will not only give credence to a fictional Lone Ranger connection, but take away the real accomplishments for which Bass Reeves should be properly remembered. And for that reason alone I can assure you that as a fan of your television programs (Tarzan, Supernatural, Revolution), I am deeply disappointed and expected better of you.

Martin Grams, Jr.


Western Reservoir said...

Let me tell you, I've had some arguments about Bass Reeves! A friend of mine read O'Reilly's book and believed that Reeves was the Lone Ranger.
It's sad what Hollywood thinks it can do in terms of rewriting history. There are so many accurate, entertaining stories out there to draw from, no one should have to use lies at all.
Thanks for the article!

Phil Carruco said...

I met Arthur Black when he gave a talk about Bass Reeves to promote his book. It was then that I realized he was using the name of the Lone Ranger to sell books. Somehow Black is unable to sell his book on the strength of Bass Reeves so he sensationalizes an injustice he made up out of pure speculation. I guess it really does sell books.

Inspired by the tragedy I began a project and am almost done my book on debunking the Bass Reeves myth and will include the scans you sent me which clearly verifies Bass Reeves was never the inspiration for the Lone Ranger. Thank you for the loan of the archival materials. Also thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will be watching Timeless tomorrow night. I hated the show but I will check this out on Monday.

Shanequa Oliver said...

Thank you. I wrote a report in high school earlier this year about Bass Reeves. As an African American I was disgusted that the achievements of Bass Reeves was being overshadowed by a myth that he was the inspiration for the fictional Lone Ranger. I am also disgusted that my fellow Blacks jump on the bandwagon and cry 'racism' without knowing the facts. Art Black admits his theory has no backing but that did not stop others from ignoring his use of such terms as 'assume' 'coincidence' and 'assumption'. Crediting Bass Reeves as the original Lone Ranger is an injustice. Any person of color who rides the wave and claims injustice needs to review the facts and not assumptions/coincidences. Thank you for presenting the facts.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for presenting the facts and setting the record straight.