The show began as an "ABC Movie of the Week", based on the first chapter of a novel ("The Immortals" by science fiction writer James E. Gunn). Featuring handsome leading man Christopher George, who had completed a two-year run as star of another ABC series ("The Rat Patrol"), "The Immortal" "movie of the week" became the pilot episode for the series.
The premise of the story was a familiar theme -- people searching for the fountain of youth; yet there was a unique twist to the story. Ben Richards carried that "fountain of youth" in his veins. He was 43 years old in the pilot, but he could pass for 25 or 30. He never got sick. When he cut himself, he healed almost instantly. (On several occasions people were amazed to see the needle mark in his arm gone almost immediately following Ben donating blood.) The doctor who discovered his blood had no clue as to how long he would live, but his guess was that Ben was "practically immortal." Only Ben had permanent benefit of the antibodies in his blood, however, as the effects of transfusions to others were immediate -- but temporary.
Ben spent the next fifteen episodes running from the "human hounds" of billionaire Arthur Maitland to keep from becoming the ailing man's personal key to health and perpetual youth. Ben had no objection to helping other people. In fact, the reason he became a hunted man was that, in his naiveté, he believed that a man with untold millions of dollars would research what made Ben's blood special and share the results with the world and not hoard it for himself.
Also in the equation was the fact that Ben was adopted. The only thing he knew was that he had a biologic brother named Jason. The two lived in an orphanage together but were adopted by different families. While Ben was looking over his shoulder he was also trying to find someone named Jason Richards in hopes that the man he found was his brother. No one -- not Ben, not Maitland or his hired hunters -- knew if Jason had the same blood type. The race was on to find Jason first.
What made "The Immortal" so special? Aside from the plot that was different from the other dramas of the era (most of which were police dramas or westerns), the acting was exceptional. Christopher George was perfectly cast as the man who didn't age (he fit the bill, too: at age 40 when the series began, he could easily have passed for 30 or younger). Don Knight was simply spectacular as the cold, heartless Fletcher, the man employed by Maitland (and Jordan Braddock before) to bring Ben to the personal prison awaiting him for the billionaire's private use. Knight played Fletcher to the hilt as a man who cared NOTHING about ANYONE, only about his job and the money he would earn once he delivered Ben to Maitland. (At one point, after Fletcher captures Ben, Ben pleads with Fletcher to allow him to warn a friend that a man with a gun is after him. Fletcher refuses, prompting Ben to ask, "Have you ever done ANYTHING decent in your life?" Fletcher coolly replies, "I subscribe to the bond of the month club at the bank.") If they ever remade this show, they could never find anyone to deliver the brutality of the role that Don Knight put into Fletcher. The writing was good, too: sometimes predictable but never preachy, saccharine, or oversimplified.
The series also featured a number of notable guest stars. Sal Mineo, Ted Knight, Michael Conrad (in a superb pre-"Hill Street Blues" role in the episode "By Gift of Chance"), Bruce Dern, Lee Meriwether, Jack Albertson, and Vic Morrow were among the notables who appeared in the show.
Thanks to the Sci-Fi Channel, a new generation was introduced to this show. Hopefully they will see fit to re-air the series again; or, we can hope, a DVD will be issued (although Don Knight's son says that is sadly NOT in the offing). This lost gem of a series should not be allowed to pass into oblivion.