Friday, June 19, 2009

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 (1956-60)
  41. F Troop (1965-67)
  42. Sugarfoot (1957-61)
  43. 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. Sgt. Preston of the Yukon (1955-58)
  48. Restless Gun (1957-59)
  49. Laramie (1959-63)
  50. Hec Ramsey (1972-74)

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.

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.)

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.)

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!


Scott C. said...

Woo Hoo! #25! Cap'n Parmalee did not die in vain!

And Peter Brown's other signature role comes in at #24. Not a bad hard-ridin', dust-eatin', leather-slappin' Western pedigree for a man who started life as Pierre Lind de Lappe

Laura said...

Wow, I'm very very pleased to see MAVERICK at #2! Giving the #1 spot to GUNSMOKE seems fair to me, if for no other reason than its longevity.

MAVERICK is one of those great shows where so many of the episodes were movie quality -- in terms of directing (Budd Boetticher made a couple), writing, and guest stars -- and they can easily be remembered by their titles. (How did TV Guide leave MAVERICK's "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres" off their recent Top 100 TV Episodes of All Time list, anyway?!) Thanks for remembering my love for this show.

I also had a great fondness for THE HIGH CHAPPARAL, despite its quirks, which you ably pointed out (grin). I enjoyed seeing some of the locations in Tucson many years ago. The show had great atmosphere (in part because of those locations) and great theme music, too. If this comes out on DVD I would snap it right up.

Ditto THE VIRGINIAN. I can remember going to bed at night when I was quite little and hearing my mom watch that show -- it was her favorite -- which I watched in reruns when I was a little older.

I plan to get the ZANE GREY THEATER set soon. Knew it had a lot of good actors but had no idea it featured pilots for so many series. I am hoping the Deep Discount summer sale starts before too long (latest online rumor is mid-July) but I might not wait that long. :)

Best wishes,

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...


Maverick was the only TV series my father ever watched in the 1950s-1960s. He'd go over to his brother Don's every Sunday night to catch it and they would watch the program while eating dinner off TV trays. He couldn't remember the title of the episode you named if you put a gun to his head, but he'd know which one you were talking about ("I'm workin' on it").

RTN (which I think has now renamed itself RTV) has The Virginian in reruns but they don't show them on my affiliate. I wish WSB-DT would pick them up, because they apparently have only eight episodes of Wagon Train in their library and they rerun those constantly.

Laura said...

What a delightful story about your dad!! I'm sure he'd also remember that episode's other great line, "If you can't trust your banker, who can you trust?" LOL.

I don't recognize the channel name RTN/RTV, but I'll check my cable guide just to make sure THE VIRGINIAN isn't playing here. Thanks for the tip. I haven't seen it in eons! Maybe the show's latter episodes is where I first picked up my liking for Stewart Granger. :)

Best wishes,

Catmom said...

What a great list! As someone who would rather watch a Western than anything else, I love this! And my all-time favorite show bar none, "Maverick," is number 2 - yesss! (BTW, if I ever get to visit John Dehner's grave someday, I would probably, as a tribute to him, say, "$15,000 - he did it!" I'd rather do that than leave flowers, and I think he'd probably appreciate it!)

Also happy to see others of my favorites - I, too, love "The High Chaparral" and "The Virginian," and "Wanted: Dead or Alive" and "The Big Valley" made it as well. (I had the privilege of meeting Peter Breck 10 years ago, and he was tickled when I told him my favorite role of his was Doc Holliday on "Maverick.")

I'd put "Centennial" ahead of "Lonesome Dove," but that's just me. Oh well! ("Centennial" is one of my all-time favorites as well - never could get into "Lonesome Dove," for some reason.)

Love the comments on Uncle Buck's attire on "High Chaparral" - as a virtually lifelong resident of Arizona, I have to do my best Dr. Phil impression and ask, "What were they thinkin'?" Tucson - in the summer - in the heat - riiiight. Let's put Mr. Mitchell in black leather, on a horse, in the desert, in the afternoon.

We get RTN here, but it doesn't show "The Virginian" - rats!


Hal said...

GUNSMOKE and MAVERICK topping the list, well, that's perfection. I love the "Sunny Acres" episode---John Dehner made a living out of playing con men---but I'm also partial to "Maverick and Juliet", "A Fellow's Brother", "Duel at Sundown" and "Greenbacks Unlimited". So many MAVERICK classics.

F TROOP should actually rank higher; it is television's all time best comedy western, period, and having Forrest Tucker and Bob Steele really added to the credibility; those two must have starred in 200 westerns combined. Tuck's emergence as a comedian after 25 years in action films had to be just as surprising in 1965 as Leslie Nielsen's post-AIRPLANE! emergence in 1980.

LANCER and BAT MASTERSON are both underrated shows IMO. Great to see WILL SONNETT getting some props, and I loved HIGH CHAPARRAL too. Marie Gomez' occasional appearances as Perlita were an added treat. :)

Randy Johnson said...

I can't argue much with the list either, though I agree with everything you said about about F-Troop.
I wonder if the list went further with abn order that didn't make the top fifty. I would be interested if an old favorite of mine was close: Yancy Derringer(Jock Mahoney).

Edward Copeland said...

As a Deadwood obsessive, I suppose I should be happy with No. 11, but I'd have it much higher, but the one that sticks in my craw is Little House on the Prairie which I've always hated. I thought Mad Magazine nailed it when they spoofed it and called it Little House Oh So Dreary. Also, Lucille Tarlek on the "Real Families" episode of WKRP who described it as a wholesome entertainment about a bunch of blind children on the prairie and every week their school or home burns down.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Thankfully, I've not had to sit through any more episodes of Prairie (sister Kat worshipped the show) but in the dim recesses of my memory I recall an outing where a child molester ran rampant on the dusty streets of Walnut Grove, wearing clown makeup. This, to be frank, is not what I consider wholesome entertainment. (I'm too lazy to look it up but I'm sure Linda or Laura will correct me on this if it turns out I just dreamed the whole thing up.)

Laura said...

I think this is the episode you're remembering, Ivan.

I'm pretty sure I skipped this one. I enjoyed the show, especially in its earlier days, but sometimes it went waaaay over the top.

Best wishes,

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Ah, many thanks, Laura, for stoking the aforementioned dim memory recesses. Otherwise I would have assumed that I just dreamed the incident...and I find that a tad scary.