Stuff You Should Know · Television

Best of the West


I passed this along to Bill Crider yesterday via e-mail, and in turn he posted it as an item on his mega-popular Pop Culture Blog. He gave TDOY generous credit for the finding, but I must come clean and shift the kudos to RGJ at Television Obscurities, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite vintage television blogs.

In a nutshell, the Western Writers of America, Inc. compiled two separate lists: one acknowledging what their members feel are the Top 50 TV Westerns of all time, and the other the Top 50 TV Western miniseries. Lonesome Dove got the nod as the Numero Uno miniseries oater, but I found myself more interested in the regular series’ tally, which I have reprinted here for your perusal and benefit:

  1. Gunsmoke (1955-75)
  2. Maverick (1957-62)
  3. Rawhide (1959-66)
  4. Bonanza (1959-73)
  5. Have Gun – Will Travel (1957-63)
  6. The Rifleman (1958-63)
  7. Wagon Train (1957-65)
  8. The High Chaparral (1967-71)
  9. Death Valley Days (1952-70)
  10. The Virginian (1962-70)
  11. Deadwood (2004-06)
  12. The Westerner (1960)
  13. Cheyenne (1955-63)
  14. The Big Valley (1965-69)
  15. Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958-61)
  16. The Lone Ranger (1949-57)
  17. The Roy Rogers Show (1951-57)
  18. The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955-61)
  19. The Wild Wild West (1965-70)
  20. The Rebel (1959-61)
  21. Little House on the Prairie (1974-83)
  22. The Young Riders (1989-92)
  23. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (1993-98)
  24. Lawman (1958-62)
  25. Laredo (1965-67)
  26. Cimarron Strip (1967-68)
  27. Daniel Boone (1964-70)
  28. Branded (1965-66)
  29. Zorro (1957-59)
  30. The Yellow Rose (1983-84)
  31. Tales of Wells Fargo (1957-62)
  32. The Lazarus Man (1996)
  33. The Gene Autry Show (1950-56)
  34. Alias Smith and Jones (1971-73)
  35. Adventures of Brisco County Jr. (1993-94)
  36. Trackdown (1957-59)
  37. Kung Fu (1972-75)
  38. Lonesome Dove, the Series (1994-95)
  39. The Magnificent Seven (1998-2000)
  40. Broken Arrow (1956-58)
  41. F Troop (1965-67)
  42. Sugarfoot (1957-61)
  43. The Guns of Will Sonnett (1967-69)
  44. Wild Bill Hickok (1951-58)
  45. Tales of the Texas Rangers (1955-57)
  46. Stoney Burke (1962-63)
  47. Sergeant Preston of the Yukon (1955-58)
  48. The Restless Gun (1957-59)
  49. Laramie (1959-63)
  50. Hec Ramsey (1972-74)
James Garner as Maverick

Now, usually when I report on these lists I have a tendency to piss and moan about which shows were chosen and why they were ranked in the order they were…but to be completely honest, I don’t really have too much to disagree with here—and only a few minor nitpicks that probably won’t change things greatly in the long run. I certainly won’t disagree with their top pick; Gunsmoke is pretty much the dean of television westerns, given its twenty-season run with first-rate stories and fascinating characterizations (though as I often maintain and will continue to do so as long as there is breath in my body, the radio version is still the best of all). I was also pleased to see Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings fave Maverick come in at Number 2—but it would have been equally sweet if James Garner’s “forgotten” western Nichols had secured a berth in the Top 50.

The cast of The High Chapparal

I was kind of surprised to see The High Chapparal chart as high as it did; I consider myself a fan of the Latino Bonanza, but can still appreciate a funny observation from someone like Scott C. (of World o’Crap fame) who once remarked: “But two things always bugged me about that show as a kid: The awesome stupidity of Big John’s son, ‘Blue Boy,’ and the constant suspense of waiting for Cameron Mitchell to die of heatstroke from wearing 20 pounds of black leather. Outdoors. During the day. In Ari-frigging-ZONA.” (I’d also like to take this moment to direct Mr. C’s attention to the fact that his beloved Laredo clocked in at #25, which is not-too-shabby.)

Forrest Tucker, Melody Patterson, Ken Berry, and Larry Storch of F Troop

I also thought The Westerner would rank higher than it did; it’s been a cult favorite of many Western fans despite its short thirteen-week run in 1960. I was also glad to see the inclusion of a few oaters that seem to have fallen by the wayside, including Lawman (#24; John Russell was without a doubt one of the most imposing sheriffs in TV western history), Trackdown (#36), Broken Arrow (#40), and Stoney Burke (#46). But the only show on the list that caused me to scratch my head extensively was the inclusion of F Troop (#41); I bow to no one in my admiration for the vaudeville antics of Forrest Tucker/Larry Storch/Ken Berry, etc. but truth be told, I really don’t consider the series a true western. Actually, I never considered Little House on the Prairie a “western,” either—but you can certainly make a stronger case for its inclusion than Troop. (Besides, if you put Troop on the list, it simply follows that Best of the West—the series that provided the title for the post—should be on there as well.)

Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre

As always, I was kind of intrigued at what shows were left off the list and one glaring omission is Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater (1956-61), the first season of which I received in the Rancho Yesteryear mailbox yesterday afternoon. I cite Theater for one major reason—five of its episodes served as pilots for other successful TV westerns: “Badge of Honor” (#28) gave birth to Trackdown; “The Sharpshooter” (#51) sired The Rifleman; “Threat of Violence” (#58) kicked off the short-lived (and highly enjoyable) Black Saddle (1959-60); “Man Alone” (#81) begat Johnny Ringo (1959-60); and “Trouble at Tres Cruces” (#83) introduced Brian Keith as The Westerner. In addition, the Trackdown episode “The Bounty Hunter” (#21) served as the pilot for fifteen-ranked Wanted: Dead or Alive, and two Rifleman outings—“The Indian” (#21) and “The Raid” (#37) would feature a character named Sam Buckhart (Michael Ansara) that later received his own series, Law of the Plainsman (1959-60).

Other memorable TV westerns that failed to make the Western Writers’ grade: Bat Masterson (1958-61), Bronco (1958-62), Colt .45 (1957-60), The Deputy (1959-61), Lancer (1968-70), Outlaws (1960-62), Riverboat (1959-61), Shotgun Slade (1959-61), The Tall Man (1960-62), The Texan (1958-60), and Tombstone Territory (1957-59).

Anyway—many congrats to the winners!

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