1974 TV Series "Sierra" Filmed in Yosemite Valley


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Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Aug 31, 2009 - 12:23pm PT
This was one of the more fun threads I've read!

I was out of the country when all this went down so this is the first tim I've heard yhis piece of Valley history.

Meanwhile I think the tv show would have had better success with a livelier theme song in the beginning!

Boulder climber
Aug 31, 2009 - 01:06pm PT
hey werner, remember when you, me and yabo worked up at the rostrum cleaning all the paint off? hauled down 5gallon cans of paint thinner and scrub brush's. . .
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Aug 31, 2009 - 01:53pm PT
Hi Dean,

Tell us more about the paint clean up, please?

I have always discounted stories about the film crew painting the rocks with permanent paint.

Ice climber
the reticient boulder at the Happies
Aug 31, 2009 - 02:26pm PT
I don't remember the movie, but do remember the show. I think it was on for a year or two.
if I am not mistaken, I think it was a CHIPS knockoff.
The Wolf

Trad climber
East SF Bay Area
Aug 31, 2009 - 03:25pm PT
TV shows are a direct result of the taste and experiences of the "creative" minds behind them. Sierra's brain trust also brought us CHIPS, EMERGENCY, and later on DIAGNOSIS MURDER and the one of the directors came to Sierra following a stint on the Brady Bunch and he later directed the nighttime soap Dynasty. I'm not discounting anyone's career accomplishments, but style and substance across a career are many times obvious in television
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Aug 31, 2009 - 03:46pm PT
The producer told me that the bears and their antics rated the highest of any characters or story in the audience tests. I asked where in the rankings the climbers came in. He dryly said, "low" then added that we were probably included because some guy in NY had the hots for climbers trim bodies.

The names and plot summaries of the series in order, sums it up:

Cruncher A bear threatens the park.

Panic at Cathedral Creek A doctor has contracted a deadly virus.

Taking Cody Williams Rangers Cassidy and Harper save little boy they're babysitting.

The Poachers The rangers search for poachers.

The Urban Rangers Two firefighters from 'Emergency' learn about mountain rescue.

Holiday A politician puts the lives of his two young sons in jeopardy by having them attempt a dangerous climb.

Tails, You Lose Rangers rescue a diver trapped underwater.

The Trek A forest fire threatens the lives of the rangers and campers.

Time Off Rangers Harper and Cassidy find a lost child.

The Giant The rangers fight a fire located near the redwood trees.

The Faun The rangers find an orphaned fawn and a blind child.

After which, the show was cancelled.

I was tempted to try to fake the plot summaries.

You know to make it funnier and less probable.

I couldn’t get close to the real thing.

Trad climber
Carlow, Ireland
Jan 24, 2016 - 10:07am PT
Hi everyone. Does anybody know where I could locate those episodes of Sierra from way back when? My mother would be so happy if I could get them for her. I have tried Amazon.com, no luck.

Thanks in advance folks.
Fossil climber

Trad climber
Atlin, B. C.
Jan 24, 2016 - 01:27pm PT
Those episodes are impossible to find.

I'm pretty sure the NPS. has copies, as did the concessioner at the time. I've only seen one, a tape, terrible quality. It was the episode where a guy and a gal go up the Arrow tip and one is hurt at bottom of the last pitch.

I took a 20' leader fall there for the camera, TM Herbert belaying, then we hauled Bev Johnson to the top, a ranger shot a line to us with a bow and arrow, and we rigged a tyrolean traverse and sent the stretcher (without Bev!) across on it.

Maybe the tensest part of the whole operation was standing in a group on thr tip and waiting for that arrow. Not a lot of room to dodge up there.

We did some impressive stuff the stunt men refused - most notably Roger's fall - but it was really lost on the small TV. screens of the time.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jan 24, 2016 - 02:52pm PT
Hi Wayne,

I didn't know that you took a leader fall for the series. Twenty feet is a long way to ride for cash.

I am not so sure that I would have agreed to stand on the top of the Lost Arrow with you, TM and Bev and let an NPS ranger shoot an arrow at us. First, I am not sure I would trust the aim (it does have to go right over the top), and secondly, I am not sure that an NPS ranger would not try to take me out. ("The shot was good. We got the scene done with only one mishap, and we have a good story line for another episode. Who will play Breedlove--may he rest in peace?")

I didn't think anything bad would happen on the stunt fall Dave and I staged on the Rostrum. I trusted your bolt, certainly trusted Dave, and no one was shooting at us. What could go wrong?

On the other hand, you stood on a tiny spot, hoping an arrow would pass between you. Yicks.

That said, the thought of standing with Bev in a small place could make one lose all sensibilities, even with TM close at hand.

It is too bad that we have not been able to get any copies of the pilot or any of the episodes. I have a good friend whose son is now an up-and-coming-Hollywood-producer; I will ask him to see if he can make any headway with Universal Studios. I would pay for a copy.

For those of you reading along, there was no way to copy a film playing on a TV in 1974. Sony's BetaMax was released in the US just about the time that The Rangers pilot was shown on TV.

Social climber
From the Time Before the Rocks Cooled.
Jan 24, 2016 - 06:24pm PT
I remember seeing a tiny, Toyota-styled pickup truck crossing the bridge down by El Cap Meadow. Strapped on the back were three gigantic paper mache boulders probably destined for some bogus rockfall scene. The boulders were each larger than the truck, and it looked so perfectly incongruous…

And wasn't there a stranded-on-a-ledge scene that they shot across from the Lodge, about ten feet off the ground? All us dirtbag climbers were hanging around watching the farce and trying not to snicker.

Trad climber
Nedsterdam CO
Jan 24, 2016 - 06:57pm PT
Jonny and Roy Forever!!
Fossil climber

Trad climber
Atlin, B. C.
Jan 24, 2016 - 07:57pm PT
There are a lot of funny stories about the making of that short-lived series. I believe it was a Mark 7 production - the ones who did cop shows. They apparently used the same writers, who didn't know climbers from aardvarks. Consequently, when they had done shows about rock rescues, water rescues and bears they were getting short on imagination.

The actors were nice folks, but I don't think any of them caught the public. One of them thought climbing was pretty cool and started doing it later, took a grounder and was very badly injured.

Loyd Price worked like a dog for that film crew and was so indispensable that one of the Asst. Directors said, "Whatever they are paying that guy isn't nearly enough!

If I remember right, the crew "painted" the top of a boulder near Rixon's Pinnacle with chalk to lighten it up and make it look more like the tip of the Arrow for closeups. Pissed a lot of locals off, but it was just chalk dust and was gone shortly.

Jack Morehead - fine early climber - was Supt. at the time and wasn't about to let any serious defacement occur.

Charlie Porter was involved too. He and Bev Johnson acted a scene off the edge of Sierra Point in which Charlie supposedly fell, rope cut over a sharp edge and he was gone. They tossed a very realistic dummy over the edge and filmed it all the way down and it damn near made me sick.

There's another funny story about smoke and mirrors filming in Happygrrrls thread about modeling for fim companies.

I love Roger's reminiscences - so fun and well written! Give us some more, Breedlove!!

Trad climber
east side
Jan 24, 2016 - 09:01pm PT
Wayne, actually Les Arnberger was Supt. when they were filming "Sierra" in 1974. Jack Morehead was Chief Ranger. He didn't become Supt. till after the NPS canned Binnewies ten or so years later.

I was friends with Debbie Price and yeah, I remember how much time Loyd was MIA working his tail off on "Sierra.".

Social climber
Jan 25, 2016 - 05:25am PT
hey there say, roger... wow, say, thanks for sharing all this...

and say, fossil climber, thanks for adding more neat stuff, here, too...

very glad the original poster, asked the question that set all this up, for us to learn about ... bhilden, thanks so very much!
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jan 25, 2016 - 10:18am PT
No. That movie was first shown, I think, on 23 April 1970, which means it was probably filmed the year before. I spent a lot of time in Yosemite in the summer, in 67-69, but did not move there until the spring of 1970.

You can see the film on a website for the music composer for the film Warner Jepson.

Warner Jepson (composer) with clips of KQED Ascent movie The first film is included in the second film.

The climbers shown are Gary Colliver and Lloyd Price plus someone I don't recognize, with a short shot of Wayne Merry (Fossil climber), I think, on the rim above the Lost Arrow tip. The first film shows Gary climbing a long chimney shot from the inside. The second film shows Lloyd and someone I don't recognize on Bishop's Balcony and the third shows Lloyd and Gary climbing the Arrow Tip, then tyroleaning across to the rim. (I shutter when I see the unbelayed traverses.) There are a couple of short voiceovers by Lloyd and Wayne (I can't place the the voice on the first clip.)

Final scenes show Lloyd rappelling with very engaging music by Jepson. These scenes and the music have been used in other circumstances. Around 1970 was probably the last time that filming aid climbing, tyrolean traverses and rappelling would be considered appropriate. In 1974, when Wayne and I worked on The Rangers, the climbing shown was free-climbing (with plenty of rescues to make it more interesting.)

So, Wayne, can you weigh in here on the particulars?

On a related note, in 1968, Glen Denny and Fred Padula started planning what became their El Capitan film. Glen’s ambition was to make a film documenting El Cap. He assembled Gary Colliver, Richard McCracken and Lito Tejada-Flores, the first two El Cap veterans and started filming in May of 1968, before the weather got too hot. This film was not released until 1977.

Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jan 25, 2016 - 10:58am PT
I found an article about this series:


This hour-long adventure series ran for just 11 episodes on NBC during the 1974-1975 season. Produced by Jack Webb’s Mark VIII Limited, it was cancelled after just four episodes had aired.

Going into the 1973-1974 season, Jack Webb’s television universe was in great shape. His production company, Mark VII Limited, would have four shows on the air, all on NBC and all produced in association with Universal : Adam-12 (entering its sixth season), Emergency! (entering its third season), Hec Ramsey (entering its second season as part of The NBC Mystery Movie) and Chase (a new series).

Fast forward to the spring of 1974, when the networks were busy developing their schedules for the 1974-1975 season. Mark VII Limited’s television output was halved, with both Hec Ramsey and Chase cancelled. But it had five pilots in contention for the 1974-1975 season, four for NBC (Fraud, The Black Pearl, Vector and Park Ranger) and one for ABC (Mobile Two) [1].

Only one of the pilots — Park Ranger — would be picked up for the 1974-1975 season and it would go through several name changes and switch from a half-hour series to an hour-long series before it hit the air. Broadcasting listed it as a half-hour adventure series about the United States Forest Service in March 1974 [2]. In April, The New York Times referred to it as The Rangers, an hour-long series that would “deal with the preservation of the environment” [3].

The name of the series was changed once more to Sierra, reflecting its setting at the fictional Sierra National Park (it would actually be filmed at Yosemite National Park). The characters would be park rangers with the United States National Park Service rather than the Forest Service. There were also some changes made to the cast after the pilot was filmed. The series would star James G. Richardson and Ernest Thompson as Ranger Tim Cassidy and Ranger Matt Harper, respectively. The two worked for Chief Ranger Jack Moore, played by Jack Hogan.

Rounding out the cast were Susan Foster and Michael Warren as Ranger Julie Beck and Ranger P.J. Lewis.

Ernest Thompson and James G. Richardson as Ranger Tim Cassidy and Ranger Matt Harper

(Jim Richardson and Bev had a romantic relationship, and I think that Jim is the actor Wayne told us took up climbing and took a ground fall.)

According to Richardson, the series would downplay the role of park rangers in policing national parks, because “the Park Service is very sensitive about its law enforcement job” [4]. Shortly before the series premiered, Broadcasting reported that the Sierra Club had accused MCA, Inc. (the parent company of Universal Television) of “seeking to develop Yosemite at the expense of its natural preservation.” Among the charges were painting rocks and using the Park Service’s rescue helicopter during production of Sierra [5].

Yosemite Superintendent Leslie Arnberger explained that “some rocks had been coated with a water-based paint to make them stand out better on film but there was a guarantee it would be removed. He also said that the use of the helicopter was with the strict understanding that it would be released immediately in an emergency.” More broadly, the Sierra Club claimed that MCA was trying to alter the way hotel and concession facilities were operated; a subsidiary of MCA was in charge of concessions at Yosemite [6].

NBC gave Sierra the Thursday 8-9PM time slot, where it would compete with returning Top Ten hit The Waltons on CBS and a pair of sitcoms on ABC, returning The Odd Couple and new series Paper Moon. The series premiered on September 12th with an episode in which Rangers Cassidy and Harper staged a daring rescue of a couple stranded while mountain climbing, dealt with a number of squabbling tourists, and handled a bear named Cruncher.

Critics, while mostly appreciative of the majestic setting, were not otherwise impressed. In his review, John J. O’Connor of The New York Times compared the series to The Mod Squad or The Rookies, only set outside. Sierra, he wrote, “combines spectacular scenery with some of the dumbest storylines to clutter prime-time TV” [7].

“The scenery is breathtaking,” wrote Jay Sharbutt of the Associated Press, “but the generally laggard script may cause you to exhale and change channels before the rescue commences. The show could be a passable 30 minutes, but it seems too long at an hour” [8]. The Chicago Tribune‘s Gary Deeb was even more critical: “Jack Webb, whose brain has been stuck in neutral for the past 25 years, brings us another in his unending series of cartoon shows without the animation” [9].

One positive review came from Cecil Smith of The Los Angeles Times, who like other critics noted the fact that Sierra was similar to Jack Webb’s earlier shows, only to argue “it seems to me to work better here. Maybe it’s the scenery, which is glorious–the show is shot entirely in Yosemite” [10].

The negative reviews translated into disastrous ratings. The premiere ranked 50th for the week out of 56 programs [11]. In its September 30th issue, published shortly after the third episode of of the series aired, Broadcasting reported that on the basis of the ratings for its first two episodes, Sierra was already in danger of being cancelled [12]. Just over a week later, on October 8th, NBC officially pulled the plug, making Sierra the first casualty of the 1974-1975 season [13].
Episodes of the series often saw the rangers heading into the park to rescue someone. In one episode, they had to rescue a pair of swimmers caught in rapids and a blind child lost in the woods. In another, the rangers tracked a bear, rescued a diver trapped underwater and helped a camper stuck in his sleeping bag. Other episodes involved the rangers fighting a fire high atop a redwood tree; leading campers out of a dangerous forest fire; babysitting the young son of a fellow ranger; saving two teenagers pushed into attempting a record-breaking climb; and searching for Chief Ranger Moore who goes missing while fishing.
The October 10th episode was pre-empted for a documentary on a deadly tornado that struck Xenia, Ohio in April 1973. The following week the series was pre-empted again for baseball. The episode that was supposed to air on October 10th finally aired on October 24th. It was a crossover with Emergency! in which paramedics John Gage (played by Randolph Mantooth) and Roy DeSoto (played by Kevin Tighe) traveled to Sierra to learn about mountain rescue techniques.

NBC would keep Sierra on its schedule through mid-December, allowing all 11 episodes to air. The final episode was broadcast on December 12th. It was replaced the following week by The Mac Davis Show. A few weeks later, on Sunday, December 24th from 8:30-10PM NBC broadcast The Rangers, the pilot to Sierra. In it, Colby Chester played Ranger Matt Harper and Laurette Spang played Ranger Julie Beck. The Rangers was repeated on Monday, July 14th, 1975.

The theme song to the series was titled “Sierra” and was performed by Denny Brooks with lyrics by John Denver and music by Lee Holdrige. Included in the closing credits was an acknowledgement of the assistance of Secretary of the Interior Rogers C.B. Morton, director of the National Park Service Ronald H. Walker and “the dedicated men and women of the National Park Service.”
Fossil climber

Trad climber
Atlin, B. C.
Jan 25, 2016 - 12:29pm PT
Kief - you're right - Morehead was Chief Rgr., not Supt. Great guy - long retired in
Morro Bay CA.

Roger - I can't remember a lot more about the Ascent filming except that it was a lot of fun, and we didn't do any fraudulent shots. Crew was tiny, just Director Virginia Duncan - a lovely person - and 3 or 4 others. Also, re the Sierra series, I don't recall real paint being used on rocks. Don't know how I would have missed that.

I do recall the Sierra episode which re-created an actual event, an NPS forester - a descendant of the original first peoples there I was told - who managed to scale the Grizzly Giant sequoia to put out a lightning strike at the top that was spreading embers all over. Herbert and I copied him - climbed a white pine near the Giant, pedulumed into a closer sequoia, climbed that, and threw a line over a branch on the Giant, lowered it to the ground where Price secured it, and thus established a Tyrolean access to the Giant. you couldn't climb it from the ground - lowest branch is something like 100' up. I'd sure love to see some of that footage.

Memory is fallible on all that stuff - it was a few weeks ago.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Jan 25, 2016 - 12:37pm PT
I told him why in hell would we steal the rigging equipment when we need it to rig?

Fuking retard!!!!!!

Great question and a classic post. LOL
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jan 25, 2016 - 12:45pm PT

You had way more fun working on the Sierra series than I had on the pilot. Don't know what got into me: with my $2,500, I went climbing.

Do you know that the NPS has copies of The Rangers and the episodes of Sierra? If so, we might be able to get them with a Freedom of Information Act request. The public, all two of us, have a right to know!

Any lawyers in the house? My daughter is an attorney, but I cannot afford her billing rates.
Fossil climber

Trad climber
Atlin, B. C.
Jan 25, 2016 - 04:23pm PT
Roger - don't know for sure but I can't imagine they don't have it archived.
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