Old Not Quite Gems: The Highwayman (1987)

One of Glen A Larson's least outstanding moments

The Highwayman

Glen A Larson was, as I may have mentioned once, twice or possibly even three times before, one of the most powerful US TV producers of the late 70s and 80s. The creator of Battlestar Galactica, Magnum PI, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Knight Rider, among other shows, he shaped the face of US television for pretty much a decade. Some of his shows did well, others not so much, but he was still one of the most influential people in television.

However, things started to peter out for him by the end of the decade, and one of his last shows – before he eventually hit rock bottom with Night Man – was The Highwayman, a poorly remembered (and slightly poor) show that aired largely in the wee small hours of the night over here in the UK. It was set in the near future where, as the narrator at the beginning of each episode said, “There is a world just beyond now where reality rides a razor-thin seam between fact and possibility, where the laws of the present collide with the crimes of tomorrow. Patrolling these vast outlands is a new breed of lawman, guarding the fringes of society’s frontiers they are known simply as Highwayman and this is their story.”

Part Mad Max, part Max Headroom, the basic idea was that in the “near future” (1992) a group of law enforcement officers who dress like bikers roam the desert roads of America, trying to prevent crimes. Most of these crimes will apparently be quite futuristic, involving aliens, robots, cloning, time travel and mind-reading among other things. To prevent these crimes, they have futuristic weapons and, in keeping with Larson’s other super-technology shows, trucks that can turn invisible and the cabins of which can separate off as helicopters or cars.

Who exactly these law enforcement officers worked for is unclear, but in the pilot episode they worked for Claudia Christian (Babylon 5), in subsequent episodes Jane Badler (V and Mission: Impossible). The hero of the piece was Sam J Jones (Flash in the movie Flash Gordon), who’s only called The Highwayman or “Highway” throughout. After the pilot episode, he’s joined by another Highwayman, Jetto, played by Australian ‘actor’ and Aussie rules football star Mark “Jacko” Jackson (which gave us the timeless on-screen credit “co-starring Jacko as Jetto”) and Tim Russ (Star Trek: Voyager, Samantha Who?) as an engineer with a very bad moustache who helps fix his truck when it has problems.

Jones fit the part exactly as “Highway”, but largely and despite guest appearances from the likes of Jimmy Smits, G Gordon Liddy and Rowdy Roddy Piper, this was a very poor show. The scripts were fun but dumb, it had a slightly catchy theme, but the action was a little lacking – although briefer in duration than Manimal‘s transformation scenes, the inevitable copter-separation only slowed things down – and it was too low budget to do much well. Jacko was also an incredibly bad actor. Just terrifyingly bad. Which made every scene he was in like fingernails down a blackboard.

You can watch most of it on YouTube, but here are the starts of a few episodes.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.