|Season 1 takes place sometime in the 1860s--prior to the Civil War, somewhat uniquely for a TV Western--and is a more somber affair. While Grey never entirely loses his sense of humor, he is far more somber. Often it's because he's dealing with more serious situations. The Enterprise deals with a number of drastic situations. People die on Season 1: children drop dead of diphtheria, parents are massacred, a major crewman dies, men betray their own friends for money.|
The Enterprise crew aren't typically the focus of the stories, either. If the claim that the tales are "Drawn from stories from real-life travelers on the river" (Complete Series DVD back cover) is true, then it seems like those stories make up a lot of Season 1. While Grey and (sometimes) Ben are always given something to do with the main storyline, they're often observers to what's going on between the passengers.
The Enterprise starts with a regular crew of Captain Grey Holden, pilot Ben Fraser, stoker Carney Kohler, and first mate Joe Travis. After the events of "The Face of Courage," Joe Travis is killed and the Enterprise takes on a new first mate, Joshua MacGregor. They also pick up Chip Kessler, an orphaned ten-year-old, and take him on as a cabin boy. Other crew that join shortly thereafter are cook and guitarist Pickalong, and substitute pilot Terry Blake. Ben Frazer mentions family issues and leaves shortly thereafter.
With so many recurring characters, the Enterprise becomes a family of sorts to this group of misfits. The family stands together even when Grey hires Captain Brad Turner to temporarily take his place ("The Wichita Arrows," "Fort Epitaph"). They get along fine with Turner but their loyalty remains with Grey.
Behind the camera, legendary Elmer Bernstein lends his musical talents to the booming orchestral theme, one of the first that he did for TV. There are hints of his classic "The Magnificent Seven Theme" to be found. The credits feature Darren McGavin and Burt Reynolds in the opening, and a departing model shot of the Enterprise at the close.
The big behind-the-scenes controversy is Burt Reynolds' abrupt departure. Neither side has given any details, other than the cited "differences" between the two stars. (Admittedly staged) photos right up to Burt Reynold's departure show the two stars getting on well enough.
The first season goes back and forth on featuring Grey and Ben. The episodes where Ben gets to shine are when Grey is "off on business" and only appears briefly at the beginning and/or end. Other then that, the producers and writers don't give Ben much to do.
Mr. Reynolds basically suffers from "Ryker Syndrome." On Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ryker doesn't have much to do when Picard is the main leading man, action hero, and dramatic focus. By the same token, Grey is clearly the main character and Darren McGavin plays him as such. If Grey gets every girl, and makes every command decision, and fights ever fight, there's not much for Ben to do. That's what they paid Darren McGavin to do and... that's what he does. It's easy to see why Reynolds might have been dissatisfied with a relatively inconsequential part, an antipathy which carried over to McGavin. Although the character of Bill Blake is an equal partner in Season 2, he doesn't fare much better. So it's entirely possible that Reynolds simply saw the part as a dead end.