“BIRTH OF A LEGEND.” First episode of the first and only season of the TV series Legion, United Paramount Network (UPN), two hrs., 18 April 1995. Richard Dean Anderson (Ernest Pratt), John de Lancie (Janos Bartok), Mark Adair-Rios (Huitzilopochtli Ramos), Jarrad Paul (Skeeter). Guest cast: Bob Balaban, Stephanie Beacham, Katherine Moffat, Jon Pennell. Creators: Michael Piller & Bill Dial. Director: Charles Correll.

   Teaming up Richard Dean Anderson, who had just finished a long gig as MacGyver, with John de Lancie, not nearly as well known except to Star Trek fans as the omnipotent and very charismatic alien being Q, was a felicitous idea that should have worked. But success or not in the annals of network TV is a chancy thing, especially when it comes to small fledgling networks, and as fate would have it, the series lasted only twelve episodes before fading away forever.

   The basic concept is hardly a new one. Sometime in the 1860s, Anderson plays a dime novelist named Ernest Pratt who gets mistaken by the townspeople of Sheridan, Colorado, for the fictional and very popular hero of his long series of books, Nicholas Legend. Far from being a hero himself, Pratt spends his days gambling and drinking in the saloons of San Francisco, but he has only himself to blame for the mixup: his stories are written in the first person and images of his face are prominently featured on all the covers.

   Learning from a good-looking female attorney (Katherine Moffat) that a warrant has been issued for his arrest in Colorado, it takes some effort, but he is finally convinced to take a trip there in order to clear his name. Causing the local townsfolk to believe that he was their savior by means of one of his many inventions is eccentric scientist Janos Bartok (de Lancie), but the deed has also severely disrupted the plans of wealthy landowner Vera Slaughter (Stephanie Beacham), who caused the charges against Legend to be drawn up.

   I doubt that I am the first to call this show a combination of Wild Wild West and Maverick, but I think the connection fits. The show is played for laughs as much as anything else, but since we’re in on the gag from scene one, I don’t believe that that was one of the primary causes of the series’ early demise. I do think, though, that Anderson may have portrayed his role a little too broadly. (He isn’t that funny.)

   This is the only episode I’ve watched so far from the set of DVDs just recently released, so I can’t tell you what kind of adventures that Legend and Bartok will have from here. This may also be one of those concepts that just has no place to go. This is a series that depended on both charisma and wacky 19th century inventions. There may not have been enough wacky inventions to go around.