Combat! premiered on ABC in October 1962 and was broadcast for five seasons. TV's longest-running World War II drama, "Combat!" aired 152 hour-long episodes. The first four seasons were produced in black and white, with the final season (25 episodes) filmed in color. The show enjoyed great success in its first run; it was often among the top-ten network shows. Combat! also had world-wide distribution, popular in Spanish-speaking countries and the Far East.
Since its cancellation in 1967, Combat! has been in continuous syndication. "Combat!" currently airs on Encore's Action Channel and in many local markets, including Los Angeles where it is broadcast in both English and Spanish. It is one of the most popular syndicated shows in Japan.
"Combat!" is a realistic, mud-splattered World War II drama that presents intimate character studies of men at war. It was the only American television show to feature the frontline infantryman.
"Combat!" follows the fighting men of King Company's second platoon as they battle their way across Europe from the beaches of Normandy. Second platoon (King Two) is commanded by Lt. Hanley. The action often centers around first squad, lead by Sergeant Saunders.
The first season episodes show a progression of events that trace the history of the Normandy campaign. Events of season one cover D-Day, Falaise, the assassination attempt on Hitler, and the battle around Avranche. Season Two starts with the battle of Chalons. All the action in season two takes place after the liberation of Paris. Any attempt at tracing historical events in a straight timeline collapses in season two. Season three has a winter episode, "Silver Service," that deals with events similar to the Battle of the Bulge, but action after this episode returns to pre-Bulge events. Season three has another episode about the Falais Pocket, which was summer of '44. Though the Allied campaign in Europe lasted less than ten months, Combat! lasted five years and the squad never fought their way out of France.
Combat! presents an unvarnished view of men in armed conflict. This was not a series that glorified war, but it was a tribute to the civilian soldier, the average G.I. who fought (and died) on the front lines of Europe. Combat! never dealt with the big picture; it showed war in microcosm and always put a face to the devastation and slaughter. In Combat! war is a furnace that either consumes and destroys a man, or tempers him like hardened steel. Combat!, at its best, shows men struggling to find and keep their moral center in the midst of a world torn apart by war.
ABOUT THE MAIN CHARACTERS
Saunders is a buck sergeant in the infantry. By D-Day, he is a battle-hardened veteran with experience in North Africa and Italy. At some time in his military career he was busted back to the rank of private (at least once), but he had his stripes again when he waded ashore at Omaha Beach. He's a "tough-as-nails" leader, described in the show's press releases as "strong but sympathetic." He demands the best from everyone--anyone who gives less earns his ire and, sometimes, his contempt. Yet he often considers the death of men under his command his own personal failure. Like the men he leads, he's not a professional soldier.
Saunders has a mother and little sister (Louise, "The Brat") waiting for him at home. One brother is a Marine in the Pacific. Some time after D-Day his younger brother, Chris, left school and joined the army. Saunders may have a kid brother named Joey; in the episode "Survival," Saunders discusses Joey's death in a delirium, so it is uncertain whether Joey is real. In different episodes, he has claimed to be both from Cleveland and from Illinois. To his family, Saunders is known as "Chip". To his men he is "Saunders," "Sarge," or, most often, "THE Sarge," the man they look up to and depend on for their survival. Saunders is five foot, eleven inches tall. This blond, blue-eyed Mid-Westerner is a man of few words, with a fierce loyalty to his men and to his lieutenant. He wears a distinctive camouflage helmet and carries both a Tommy gun and a Colt .45 sidearm.
LIEUTENANT GIL HANLEY
Hanley commands King Company's second platoon. He was a tech sergeant when he lead his men ashore on D-Day. Since he has no campaign ribbons before D-Day, the action at Omaha Beach was probably his first time under fire. Soon after D-Day he received a battlefield commission, obtaining the rank of 2nd lieutenant. When he and Saunders were sergeants together, they were friendly rivals for the attentions of women. Hanley's promotion has put a professional distance between Hanley and Saunders. Hanley depends on Saunders; the whole company knows that Saunders is Hanley's right hand man.
Six-foot, four inches tall, with dark hair, green eyes and sophisticated good looks, Hanley appears to be a ladies man. He has a bright smile and an easy-going manner but don't cross him, there's steel behind the smile. He is usually armed with a carbine, bayonet, and Colt .45. Hanley is a college graduate. His college roommate was a French exchange student who hosted Hanley for a vacation in his home in France after graduation. During the war, Hanley learns that his roommate had been killed by the Gestapo; working behind enemy lines, Hanley helps his roommate's family escape to Switzerland (episode "The Quiet Warrior"). This is the only background on Hanley ever given in the show. We know nothing about his family (or even if he has family) or his pre-war life.