If you were flipping around your television in the fall of 1977 and stumbled on a new show called Carter Country, you might have been underwhelmed by the setting — and the cast.
After all, the whole thing (pert near, at least) took place in a dingy police station in the racially-torn deep south during the early years of the Jimmy Carter administration — hence, “Carter Country.”
Those were bleak times for a lot of folks, and the mood of the show reflected that reality.
Add in the fact there wasn’t much pre-existing star power on the screen, and you had to wonder if the thing would last.
Well, it did last, for a couple of years, at least, and along the way, we grew to know and appreciate the characters coming at us each week.
And especially the actors.
In fact, Carter Country served as a springboard to solid TV careers for many of the show’s regulars.
With that in mind, here is how the subsequent years played out for that Carter Country cast.
Victor French – Chief Roy Mobey
By the time French landed on our small screens (again) as Chief Roy Mobey, he was already a familiar face by virtue of long runs on Gunsmoke and Little House on the Prairie, as well as other, less prominent roles.
Roy was another gristly yet somehow lovable character, and the glue/conscience that held Carter Country together (as much as it did hold together).
French would go on to become Michael Landon’s sidekick in Highway to Heaven during the latter half of the 1980s before his untimely death of lung cancer in June 1989 at just 54.
Kene Holliday – Sergeant Curtis Baker
Holliday was an up-and-coming young actor fresh off a one-part appearance in Roots: The Next Generations when he landed the gig as Sergeant Curtis Baker in 1977.
College-educated and city-bred, Baker brought street smarts and a personal knowledge of race relations that seemed to elude most of the rest of the Clinton Corners gang.
Once Carter Country ended, Kene landed roles on Hill Street Blues, G.I. Joe, and, most famously, Matlock.
In that latter, he played Ben Matlock’s private investigator, Tyler Hudson.
Off-screen problems, including substance abuse issues, eventually led to his dismissal from that show.
These days, Holliday shows up from time to time in video games or on TV, and he has spent a lot of time on the road with his wife, preaching in gospel musicals.
Guich Koock – Deputy Harley Puckett
Like Holliday, Koock had logged just a few minor roles before breaking out (sorta, at least) in Carter Country.
There, he played Deputy Harley Puckett, a mostly goodhearted but wholly goofy underling who seemed to have a knack for bungling and misunderstanding.
Once his run down south was done, Koock latched on to a few more feature roles on series like The Chisolms, Lewis & Clark, and She’s the Sheriff.
That last carried him through the end of the 1980s, and Koock managed just a couple of appearances in the 1990s, and just two in the 2000s.
His last credit came as the voice of the trooper in 2012’s Trooper and the Legend of the Golden Key.
Barbara Cason – Cloris Phebus
Cason didn’t make her (small) screen debut until she was in her 40s, but she quickly became a familiar face for TV audiences all up and down the dial in the 1970s.
Even if we didn’t know her name, we recognized her usually exasperated face as soon as she flashed on the tube in vehicles like The Walters; Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; Family; The Jeffersons; and All in the Family, among plenty of others.
In Carter Country, Cason plays town employee Cloris Phenbus who keeps the whole thing running without getting much (any!) of the credit.
Richard Paul – Mayor Teddy Burnside
Like Cason, Paul got a late(ish) start on crashing our living rooms, finally breaking through in his mid-30s during the mid-1970s.
He even appeared in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman alongside Cason.
It was Carter Country that gave him his first starring role, though, and his weak and whiny Mayor Teddy Burnside became a classic part of the short-lived series.
In particular, when there was something — anything — complicated or unpleasant that needed to be done, Burnside would rope in Roy, telling the sheriff to just “handle it, handle it.”
It would have been a big-time meme had it come 40 years later.
As it was, the role and its catchphrase helped Paul stay in the limelight well into the 1990s, with steady roles in Herbie the Love Bug, Hail to the Chief, Full House, and Murder, She Wrote, among others.
Paul died on Christmas Day in 1998 after a battle with cancer.
Vernee Watson – Lucille Banks
Though Watson was the youngest member of the regular cast on Carter Country, she already had nearly a decade’s worth of television credit under her belt by the time she landed the role of Lucille Banks, Burnside’s educated secretary.
Most prominent among those credits was a 13-episode arc on Welcome Back, Kotter.
Watson kept right on rolling even when Cater Country didn’t, landing major parts in series like Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels, Foley Square, Baby Talk, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Harvey Vernon – Deputy Jasper DeWitt, Jr.
Vernon was another late bloomer, TV-wise, not landing his first credit until he was almost 50.
His Deputy Jasper DeWitt, Jr., was one of the most controversial characters in Carter Country — a racist cop who was actually a member of the Klan.
There were some theories and hints that maybe DeWitt was staying close to the KKK in order to keep an eye on their activities, but the general feeling around the dude was scary, small, and ugly.
Luckily for Vernon, studios were able to separate him enough from his role to keep his career running with a string of TV appearances that ran pretty much uninterrupted right up through his death in 1996.