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Cult TV Essentials: Tour of Duty

Tour of Duty was an American drama television series on CBS. It ran for three seasons from September 1987 to April 1990 as 58 one-hour episodes. The show was created by Steve Duncan and L. Travis Clark, and produced by Zev Braun.

The show follows an American infantry platoon on a tour of duty during the Vietnam War. It was the first television series to regularly show Americans in combat in Vietnam and was one of several similarly themed series to be produced in the wake of the acclaimed Oliver Stone film, Platoon. The series won an Emmy Award in 1988 for Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Drama Series, and it was nominated again in 1989 and 1990.

Tour of Duty was groundbreaking as it addressed the issues of politics, faith, teamwork, racism,suicide, fragging, terrorism, civilian deaths, drug abuse, and the shattered lives and confused feelings of those troops who finally made it home alive. The story focuses mainly on Bravo company’s second platoon under the command of 2nd Lieutenant (1st Lieutenant from the start of season 2) Myron Goldman (Stephen Caffrey), and Staff Sergeant (later Sergeant First Class) Zeke Anderson (Terence Knox).

The end credit black-and-white photos are by David Hume Kennerly, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography during the Vietnam War.

The first season was filmed on location in Hawaii at Schofield Barracks. For the second and third seasons the series was filmed around Los Angeles, California in order to reduce costs. This also enabled the producers to redress a studio backlot as Saigon. The move also meant reusing the same locations, notably a small river with grass on one bank and woods on the other which turns up in a number of episodes. A lot of filming was undertaken on the old set of M*A*S*H. Helicopter scenes with McKay were filmed on the ground with the rotors running.

The first season opens in 1967 and follows a standard light infantry platoon. In the second season, the troops found themselves relocated to a base near Saigon while conducting the typical “search and destroy” missions. Production staff interviewed in VIETNAM Magazine cited this change as a change in premise that doomed the series, as female characters were also introduced (in hopes of gaining more female viewership and because of the premiere of the ABC Vietnam Army Nurses drama China Beach which was aimed at a more female audience) and the show ceased to be a realistic chronicle of life in the field for the average line infantryman in favor of being more romance- and action/adventure-oriented.[citation needed] In the third season, the remaining female character was killed off and the platoon was transferred to a SOG (Studies and Observation Group) unit under the command of Colonel Brewster—played by Carl Weathers, conducting covert operations in Vietnam and in Cambodia, culminating in the fictional version of the raid on Son Tay Prison. The third season was the show’s last.

In its third season, CBS moved the show to the Saturday 9:00 p.m. time slot. Being forced to compete with NBC’s The Golden Girls and Empty Nest, the show’s ratings dropped and the show was canceled at the end of the season.

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