“Seven brothers, bold and strong,
Searching for seven brides,
Loving each other
And living with pride,
Trying to make a stand.

In the Mother Lode of California
With its mountains tall and grand
Seven brothers, bold and strong,
Living in the Promised Land.

Working hard every day
In the blazing sun
On the open land,
Dreaming visions at night
Of the life they planned.

Seven brothers, bold and strong,
Living in the Promised Land.”

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Cast

That’s what the triumphant, rousing opening theme song to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers reminded television audiences each week beginning with the series premiere on September 19, 1982. I was 12 years old at the time and what more could a horse-crazy girl entering puberty ask for than seven ruggedly handsome brothers on horseback riding across her TV screen each week?

The people at MGM Television came up with the idea to create a TV series inspired by the 1954 classic film musical of the same name. David Gerber served as executive producer of this creative endeavor.

The TV show would only be loosely based on the musical. Instead of keeping the setting in Oregon in the 1800s, the creators gave the series a contemporary setting on a ranch in California’s Gold Country. They also decided to make it more of a family drama instead of a musical, although they didn’t quite shed the musical component entirely.

The show was part family drama, part musical, and part contemporary Western at a time when each of those genres had seen better days. The popularity of musicals had declined since the 1960s. The Western was also past its mid-20th century heyday. Beloved family dramas such as Little House and The Waltons had ended. Dynasty and Dallas, featuring uber-rich families and 80s excess, ruled the ratings. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, on the other hand, focused on the simple lives of the McFaddens, a family of seven orphaned brothers and the wife of the eldest as they struggled to make their cattle ranch, the Circle Bar Seven, profitable.

So Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was swimming against the stream. Still, the show had some strong points. The setting was beautiful and captured the charm of rural California. But the series’ greatest asset was its strong cast led by Richard Dean Anderson, Drake Hogestyn, and Peter Horton as the three eldest brothers and rounded out by River Phoenix as the youngest brother. Roger Wilson, Tim Topper, and Bryan Utman played the teenaged brothers. Terri Treas, as the bride of the eldest brother, was the female counterpoint to this testosterone-laden ensemble.

Although it had charismatic and talented actors and started out with well-drawn characters, the show never found its focus. It fluctuated between straight drama and musical, sacrificing plot development in the process. Unfortunately, and probably not surprisingly to anyone who was not a 12-year-old girl, it tanked in the ratings. It was canceled after only one season.

Still, in 1983, the series managed to garner an Emmy nomination. In the Outstanding Art Direction for a Series category, Hub Braden, art director, and Donald J. Remacle, set director, received a nomination for the episode “The Rescue.”

The series made a bigger splash in the Young Artist Awards. River Phoenix won Best Young Actor in a Drama Series in 1984. During the previous year, the series received a nomination for Best New Family Television Series, and River received a nomination for Best Young Actor in a New Television Series.

After it was canceled, the show faded into obscurity but not oblivion. Although the series ultimately proved to be less than the sum of its parts, it made a small but indelible mark in TV history. It launched a diverse but talented group of people on to bigger and better projects. For that, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers deserves to be remembered.