The Young Rebels: A Hippie TV Show About the American Revolution

An Independence Day post concerning a brief anomalous short-lived experiment on ABC.

The Young Rebels (1969-70) was one of those shows that must have sounded like a brilliant idea-stroke at the time, but proved to be quite the opposite. It was an attempt to marry the burgeoning youth culture of the sixties to the domestic ferment of the American Revolution. ABC was all about targeting shows to the younger demographic, The Mod Squad (1968-73), being the principal example of that tendency. The Young Rebels was kind of a Mod Squad for the 1770s: a quartet of 20-ish guerrilla freedom fighters harassing the British. As with The Mod Squad, the little band included a chick (Hilary Thompson), and a black dude (Louis Gossett, Jr), in addition to their good looking leader (Richard Ely). Also true to formula was the presence of a fourth collaborator, an overweight, bespectacled fellow (Alex Henteloff) who emulated Ben Franklin and devised all sorts of inventions. Plus there was a fifth member of their incognito group, the equally young and dashing Major General the Marquis de Lafayette, played by real-life French aristocrat Phillipe Forquet, who has since inherited his father’s title and is nowadays Viscount de Dorne. Now THAT is stunt casting!

On the face of it, it seems savvy. Just one look at Paul Revere and the Raiders or the frilly sleeves and shirt fronts on the mods might convince you of that! But when you think about it a little more deeply, you realize the error. It’s one of those ideas that, rather than appealing to everybody, appeals to nobody. Think about it. Most actual young people during the Vietnam War era were most emphatically NOT along for a patriotic ride. Yes, the lead characters were all long haired rebels, but it’s hard to deny the fact that they were: a) fighting in a war, or b) doing it for patriotic reasons. In fact, the American side in the Revolutionary War proudly referred to themselves (and we still do) as “The Patriots”. By the same token, older people must have been put off by a show about a bunch of scruffy saboteurs running around outside the law setting off explosives and robbing payrolls and so forth in what after all, a time when left-wing terrorism (the Weatherman, etc) was making terrifying headlines. So who was this show for??? As interesting as the concept of The Young Rebels may be to us, audiences of the time stayed away. It was cancelled mid-season, after just three and a half months and 15 episodes.

Interesting people did guest shots on the show. Will Geer (The Waltons) is in five episodes as Ely’s father; Brandon de Wilde played Nathan Hale; Bernard Fox (Dr. Bombay from Bewitched) played a British officer); and you can see people like David Soul (Starsky and Hutch) and Farrah Fawcett (Charlie’s Angels) in early turns. There are fragments of the show on youtube, for the morbidly curious.