Bret Maverick is a 1981-82 American Western television series starring James Garner in the role that made him famous in the 1957 series created by Roy Huggins and entitled Maverick: a professional poker player traveling alone year after year through the Old West from riverboat to saloon. In this sequel series, Maverick has settled down in Sweetwater, Arizona Territory, where he owns a ranch (The Lazy Ace) and is co-owner of the town's saloon (The Red Ox). However, Maverick is still always on the lookout for his next big score, and continues to gamble and practice various con games whenever the chance arises. The series was developed by Gordon Dawson, and produced by Garner's company Cherokee Productions (mistakenly dubbed "Comanche Productions" on the end credits) in association with Warner Bros. Television.
Almost two decades after the original Maverick series, and a few years after his appearance in the 1978 TV-movie The New Maverick, Bret Maverick has put down roots in the frontier community of Sweetwater, Arizona Territory where he's now the silent partner of the Red Ox saloon that he won in a card game. Maverick's still a gambler, and is not above running various con games to help make the money he needs to keep his businesses afloat. Because of this, he's viewed with suspicion by many of the town's more prominent citizens, especially the town's newly appointed sheriff.
Bret's business partner is Tom Guthrie (Ed Bruce), the town's former sheriff and co-owner of the Red Ox Saloon. (Actor Ed Bruce, a noted country singer, also co-wrote and performed the show's theme song.) Bret's penchant for organizing cons and money-making schemes of questionable legality means that he and ex-sheriff Guthrie are often at odds with each other, although they still remain friends. Also seen as series regulars are Richard Hamilton as Cy Whitaker, the aging but feisty foreman of Maverick's ranch; Ramon Bieri as prosperous local banker Elijah Crow; Darleen Carr as Mary Lou "M.L." Springer, the fetching owner, editor, and photographer of the local newspaper; David Knell as Rodney Catlow. M.L.'s young assistant; and John Shearin as Mitchell Dowd, the town's arrogant and ineffectual sheriff.
Also seen frequently are three actors who were carry-overs from Garner's previous series The Rockford Files. Stuart Margolin ("Angel" on The Rockford Files) appears in a recurring role as crooked Native American Philo Sandeen; frequent Rockford Files bit player Jack Garner (James' brother) plays the role of Jack, the Red Ox's bespectacled bartender; and Luis Delgado (James Garner's longtime stand-in, and "Officer Billings" on Rockford) plays Red Ox employee Shifty Delgrado.
Semi-regulars include Tommy Bush as the inept but friendly Deputy Sturgess, and Marj Dusay as Kate Hanrahan, the town's local madam.
Although the ratings were respectable, the show was unexpectedly canceled by NBC at the end of the first season. Writer/producer Roy Huggins, original creator of the titular character but otherwise unconnected with this series despite Garner's request that he come aboard mid-season, speculated that one reason the new show didn't quite work was that Maverick, traditionally a drifter, had settled down in one place. Jack Kelly, who had alternated the lead with Garner and later Roger Moore in the original 1957-1962 Maverick series, had been slated to return as Bret's brother Bart Maverick in the second season, and briefly appeared at the very end of the only season. A number of scripts for the following season had been written and presented to Kelly, according to subsequent interviews; Bart was going to look after the saloon in Arizona while Bret ranged across the West, thereby making this series closer in conception and tone to the original Maverick. The series' final episode also included a number of other changes to the series set-up: notably, Tom Guthrie was re-elected as sheriff, and sold his interest in the Red Ox to Kate Hanrahan, who immediately reinvented the establishment as an upscale brothel. As well, Mitchell Dowd was appointed to a government position as an inspector of bars and hotels throughout the Arizona territory, where he promised to remain a thorn in Maverick's side.