See Also: List of TV Westerns
Television Westerns are a sub-genre of the Western in which stories are
set primarily in the later half of the 19th century in the American Old
West, Western Canada and Mexico during the period from about 1860 to the
end of the so-called "Indian Wars."
television becomes popular in the late 1940s and 1950s, TV westerns
quickly become an audience favorite. The peak year for television
westerns is 1959, with 26 such shows airing during prime-time.
Traditional Westerns fade in popularity in the late 1960s, while new shows
fused Western elements with other types of shows, such as family drama,
mystery thrillers, and crime drama. In the 1990s and 2000s,
hour-long westerns and slickly packaged made-for-TV movie westerns are
introduced. As well, new elements are once again added to the
Western formula, such as the Western-science fiction show Firefly, created
by Joss Whedon in 2002.
Radio and Film Antecedents
The Saturday Afternoon Matinee on the radio are a pre-television
phenomenon in the US which often feature western series.
Film westerns turn Audie Murphy, Tom Mix, and Johnny Mack Brown
into major idols of a young audience, plus "Singing cowboys" such
as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Rex Allen. Each cowboy
have a co-starring horse such as Rogers' Golden Palomino, Trigger,
who becomes a star in his own right.
Other B-movie series
are Lash LaRue and the Durango Kid. Herbert Jeffreys, as Bob Blake
with his horse Stardust, appear in a number of movies made for
African American audiences in the days of segregated movie
theaters. Bill Pickett, an African American rodeo performer,
also appears in early western films for the same audience.
1940s and 1950s
When the popularity of television explodes in the late 1940s and
1950s, westerns quickly become a staple of small-screen
entertainment. The first, on June 24, 1949, is the Hopalong
Cassidy show, at first edited from the films made by William Boyd.
Many B-movie Westerns air on TV as time fillers, while a number of
long-running TV Westerns become classics in their own right.
Notable TV Westerns include Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, The
Rifleman, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Laramie, Have Gun, Will Travel,
Bonanza, The Virginian, Wagon Train, The Big Valley, Maverick, The
High Chaparral, The Gene Autry Show, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne, and
The peak year for television westerns is 1959,
with 26 such shows airing during prime-time. In one week in March
1959, eight of the top ten shows are westerns. Increasing costs of
production (a horse cost up to $100 a day) leads to most action
half hour series vanishing in the early 1960s to be replaced by
hour long television shows, increasingly in color. Two
unusual westerns series of this era are Zorro, set in
early California under Spanish rule, and the British/Australian
western Whiplash set in 1850/60's Australia with four
scripts by Gene Roddenberry.
Late 1960s through 1980s
Traditional Westerns begin to disappear from television in the late
1960s and early 1970s as color television becomes universal.
1968 is the last season any new traditional Westerns debuted on
television. By 1969, after pressure from parental advocacy groups
who claim Westerns are too violent for television, all three of
the major networks ceased airing new Western series. The two
last traditional Westerns, Death Valley Days
and Gunsmoke, end their runs in 1975. This may have
been the result of an ongoing trend toward more urban-oriented
programming that occurs in the early 1970s known as the "rural
purge", though only two Westerns (NBC's The Virginian
and The High Chaparral) are canceled in
the peak season of the purge in 1971. Bonanza ends its
run in 1973.
While the traditional Westerns mostly die out
in the late 1960s, more modernized Westerns, incorporating story
concepts from outside the traditional genre, begin appearing on
television shortly thereafter. The Wild Wild
West, which runs from 1965 to 1969, combines Westerns
with heavy use of steam punk and an espionage-thriller format in
the spirit of the recently popular James Bond franchise. The
limited-run McCloud, which premiers in 1970, is
essentially a fusion of the sheriff-oriented western with the
modern big-city crime drama. Hec Ramsey is a
western whodunit mystery series. Cimarron Strip,
a lavish 90-minute 1967 series stars Stuart Whitman as a U.S.
Marshal, is canceled after a single season primarily because of
its unprecedented expense. Little House on the Prairie
is set on the frontier in the time period of the western, but is
essentially a family drama. Kung Fu is in
the tradition of the itinerant gunfighter westerns, but the main
character is a Shaolin monk, the son of an American father and a
Chinese mother, who fights only with his formidable martial art
skill. The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams is a
family adventure show about a gentle mountain man with an uncanny
connection to wildlife who helps others who visit his wilderness
Little House on the Prairie is an American
one-hour dramatic television program that airs on the NBC network
from September 11, 1974 to March 21, 1983. During the 1982–83
television season, with the departure of Michael Landon, the
series is broadcast with the new title Little House: A New
Beginning. A miniseries is called The Little House
Years is aired in 1979.
Riders premiers in the fall of 1989 and runs for 3
seasons. The show follows a group of riders for the fabled
Pony Express which operated 1860–1861.
1990s and 2000s
The 1990s sees the networks getting into filming Western movies on
their own. Like Louis L'Amour's Conagher starring
Sam Elliott and Katharine Ross, Tony Hillerman's The
Dark Wind, The Last Outlaw,
The Jack Bull etc.
A few new
comedies like The Cisco Kid, The Cherokee Kid, and the
gritty TV series Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years.
is remake with Duncan Regehr for The Family Channel filmed in
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman is a
multi-Emmy Award winning western/dramatic television series in the
United States, created by Beth Sullivan. It runs on CBS for
six seasons, from January 1, 1993 to May 16, 1998.
Walker, Texas Ranger is a long-running
western/crime drama series, set in the modern era, in the United
States, that stars and later is produced by Chuck Norris. It
runs on CBS for nine seasons, from April 21, 1993 to May 19, 2001.
For most of their time on air, Dr. Quinn and Walker air on the
same Saturday night lineup.
In the 1993–1994 season, the
Fox network airs a science fiction western called The
Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., which lasts for only 27
episodes. In the fall of 1995, the UPN network airs its own
science fiction western, Legend, which ends after 12 episodes.
Western TV shows from the 2000s include the syndicated
Queen of Swords filmed in Almeria Spain,
Louis L'Amour's Crossfire Trail starring Tom
Selleck, Monte Walsh, and Hillerman's Coyote
Waits, and A Thief of Time. DVDs
offer a second life to TV series like Peacemakers, and HBO's
Deadwood. In 2002, a show called Firefly (created
by Joss Whedon) mixes the Western genre with science fiction.
Justified is a series on FX that debuted in 2010, about a
Western-style vigilante U.S. Marshal based in modern rural
With the growth of cable television and direct
broadcast satellites, reruns of Westerns have become more common.
Upon its launch in 1996, TV Land carry a block of Westerns on
Sundays; the network still airs Bonanza and the color
episodes of Gunsmoke as of 2011. Encore Westerns,
part of the Encore slate of premium channels, airs blocks of
Western series in the morning and in the afternoon, while the
channel airs Western films the rest of the day. MeTV, a
digital broadcast channel, includes Westerns in its regular
schedule as well, as does the family oriented Inspiration Network.
Action In the Afternoon -
is an western television
series that aired live on CBS from February 2, 1953 to January 29, 1954.
Adventures of Rin Tin Tin -
The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin is an
American children's television program which originally
aired in 166 episodes on ABC from October 1954 until