Before Combat!, Robert Blees had received
critical praise for his work on the 1961 TV series Bus Stop.
Airing opposite the ratings blockbuster Bonanza, the series survived only one year. Also contributing to
early cancellation of Bus Stop, was the national notoriety it gained for
an episode featuring singer Fabian. The episode was denounced for its explicit violence
and sadism and even cited in Congressional hearings on violence in television.
Blees was proud of his artistic work on Bus Stop and also that Bus Stop was
the only network series of that year that came in on budget. Blees also had experience in
feature films, including the first feature that Joan Crawford played her age.
In addition to Robert Altman, Blees also hired Robert Hauser as cinematographer, whose
work he greatly admired. All three of these Roberts had been in the war. I
felt that was essential, says Blees.
But the war experiences among the new staff had been in the air, not on the ground.
Blees had been a B-24 navigator in the Air Corps and Altman had joined in 1945 and become
a copilot of a B-24 in the Pacific. The only infantryman associated with the Combat!
who had actual frontline experience in Europe was the shows
creator, Robert Pirosh, who was no longer working on the show.
Blees always brought the show in within
its $150,000 per episode budget, which was very hard to do. We
kept a very high standard, says Blees. Not every one of our shows was
as good as I would have liked it. But it was very, very good. In fact, we were really
Blees tried to launch other shows from
within Combat! He wanted to develop a story using Nina Foch as a war correspondent,
launching a series with a slightly different flavor one that would attract a
50/50 male/female audience, instead of the 60/40 audience that Combat! was attracting. ABC
passed on the notion, instead choosing to produce a pilot about Alexander the Great,
starring William Shatner. Though offered work on the pilot, neither Altman nor Blees
wanted anything to do with it. Blees backdoor pilot about the correspondent was
never made, but the idea later was developed into the first-season episode No Hallelujahs for Glory.
"He [Blees] was a real nice guy," says Dick Peabody about Blees, "smart
as they come. a real perfectionist. Blees was demanding of writers. He required the best
scripts for the series and wouldn't accept less. Under his exacting eye, Combat!
premiered with superior scripts and stories that rival anything written for todays
television. Unfortunately, they werent the scripts that Seligman wanted. Blees and Altman were
having more and more serious disagreements with Seligman, which was becoming common
knowledge around Hollywood.
Seligman replaced Blees with Altman as producer of Combat! in the middle of the