Nichols (also known as James Garner as Nichols) is an American Western television series starring James Garner broadcast in the United States on NBC during the 1971-72 season. Set in the fictional town of Nichols, Arizona, in 1914, Nichols differed from traditional Western series of the era. The main character, a sheriff, rode on a motorcycle and in an automobile rather than on the traditional horse. Nichols did not carry a firearm and was generally opposed to the use of violence to solve problems, preferring other means. Margot Kidder portrayed Ruth, his love interest and a barmaid at Salters.
After 18 years in the army, Nichols decides to quit after the introduction of a new, deadlier type of machine gun. Although Nichols' first name is never spoken aloud, his army induction papers, seen clearly in the opening moments of the pilot episode, give "Frank" as his first name (also the first name of series creator Frank Pierson). Nichols comes back in the town founded by his family to learn that it has been taken over by another family, the Ketchams. At the end of the pilot episode, matriarch Ma Ketcham (Neva Patterson), blackmails Nichols into serving as the town sheriff, a position which carried little actual authority but considerable danger. Nichols' personal concern is not usually law enforcement but rather finding a way to get rich with very little effort.
John Beck was cast as Ma Ketcham's oldest son (known simply as Ketcham) who constantly is butting heads with Nichols. The role of Ketcham was greatly reduced after the first few episodes, though never completely written out. Towards the end of the first season, Beck, still a series regular, appeared in two episodes in the completely unrelated role of Orv, an old friend who gets Nichols into trouble with his schemes. Despite their identical appearances, no-one on the show commented on the resemblance between Ketcham and Orv.
Stuart Margolin played Mitch Mitchell who was assigned to be Nichols' deputy, either in spite of or because he was none too bright, none too honest and something of a bully. Nichols soon finds a love interest in Ruth (Margot Kidder), a barmaid who works at Salter's Hotel. Other townsfolk are seen frequently in supporting roles: see the list of recurring characters below for further details.
Nichols marked the first time since Maverick that Garner had worked with Warner Brothers. After suing Warner over Maverick, Garner was banned from the lot by Jack Warner.
Garner wore three different hats in the main with his costumes during the course of the series: a cavalry hat, a striped cap for riding motorcycles, and finally an approximate duplicate of his black cowboy Maverick hat. One episode, "Fight of the Century," was more or less a remake of the second half of the Maverick episode "Stampede," with Garner trying to persuade a genial animal-loving giant into fighting a professional in a boxing match, then winding up having to replace the reluctant giant and fight the boxer himself. The primary difference between the two fights was that Garner, now more than a dozen years older, wore a nightshirt while boxing in the Nichols version.
The series did not do well in the ratings and was quickly retitled James Garner as Nichols in October 1971 to capitalize on the star's popularity. The low ratings also resulted in the decision by the program's producers to kill off the title character in the final episode to retool the series. The unarmed Nichols was shot down, to be avenged by his identical twin brother, Jim Nichols (also portrayed by Garner), who arrived in town with exactly the same haircut but wearing a vigorous mustache. Jim administered justice in a somewhat more conventional (and it was hoped, popular) Western fashion, was offered the job of sheriff by Ma Ketcham, then rode out of town on a motorcycle, saying he expected he might come back sometime. This solution made recasting and retitling the program unnecessary while allowing for considerable changes, and leaving the door open for a second season. However this episode proved to be the final one; before it aired NBC cancelled the series, rerunning the earlier episodes in the summer of 1972.