My Top Ten Half Hour Westerns, By Rich Paschall
Previously on Top Ten Lists, the half-hour dramas were pursued and captured by our list makers after a mighty struggle with the internet. The hero of our saga had to hunt down the short dramas of yesteryear because the present day folks had completely abandoned the idea of getting to the point quickly. These stories were rounded up one by one and displayed in Too Much Drama, an episode from a couple of weeks ago. Now the tale of the half-hour drama resumes with the Western division. Our hero will ride off into the sunset looking for horse dramas that actually had a plot and moved right along. Saddle up and follow us down the trail.
In the early days of television, the western was a staple of programming. Many shows were radio broadcasts that became a television series. With an abundance of radio scripts that could be filmed, it was a natural progression of the media. While you may remember the famous one-hour westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, they were preceded by a short western with a somewhat simple plot where the bad guy was always caught. “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver!” The half hour western rides again!
10. Rifleman starring Chuck Connors. Lucas McCain brings law and order to North Fork with a modified rifle. Johnny Crawford played his son and by the end of the series in 1963 he was a true teenage heart-throb. This added to my interest, I suppose.
09. Trackdown starring Robert Culp. The series attempted to tone down the violence prevalent in other westerns. Steve McQueen appeared as Josh Randall in the series and Wanted Dead or Alive became a spin-off in 1958.
08. Cisco Kid starring Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo. It was the story of an American hero, the Cisco Kid, and his slow-witted sidekick, Poncho. Renaldo was arrested in 1934 for illegal entry into the US (before DACA) and ultimately pardoned by the President. Carrillo was of Spanish descent.
07. Wanted Dead or Alive starring Steve McQueen. McQueen plays bounty hunter Josh Randall for three seasons. His character didn’t seem to be in it for the money, however, as he gave much of the earnings away. It could be said this series launched a huge movie career for McQueen.
06. The Roy Rogers Show starring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. The show started in 1951 and ran for 100 episodes over the next six years. It was heavily marketed to children with a glut of Roy Rogers, “King of the Cowboys” toys. Dale Evans penned the popular closing song, Happy Trails.
05. Zorro starring Guy Williams. “Zorro, the fox so cunning and free,” ran for just 78 episodes, but seemed to us like it was on forever due to syndication. It also had 4 one hour shows on the Walt Disney series.
04. The Lone Ranger starring Clayton Moore and John Hart. Although everyone thinks of Moore as the Lone Ranger, Hart covered the role for 52 episodes from 1952 to 1954. The series overall output was 221 episodes and reruns featuring Hart were shelved for decades after Moore returned following a contract dispute (or creative differences, depending on where you hear it). Like other short-form Westerns of the era, the program was heavily merchandised to children.
03. The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp starring Hugh O’Brien. The highly fictionalized version of the real-life western legend ran for 229 episodes over 6 seasons, yes they made a lot of episodes for a season in those years. O’Brien held a slight resemblance to Earp which allegedly was an influence in the casting. The series started in Kansas but naturally ended in Tombstone, Arizona years later.
02. Bat Masterson starring Gene Barry. This TV series is another highly fictionalized version of a legendary figure. The real Masterson may have worn a derby hat in the Wild West days as Barry did in the series, but he may not have been as likely to deal with you by knocking you on the head with his cane rather than using his gun. In any case, the series was very entertaining and Gene Barry was much better dressed than Masterson in any of the surviving photos. An interesting side note is that the real-life Earp and Masterson were deputies together in Dodge City and met again later in Tombstone.
01. Have Gun, Will Travel starring Richard Boone. Although Paladin might prefer to avoid fighting and bloodshed, he would not hesitate to shoot you if necessary. The San Francisco based hired gun had a strong sense of justice in 225 episodes. As a kid, I had a holster and plastic gun like the one in the opening sequence as well as the business cards announcing “Have Gun – Will Travel.” At that young age, however, I didn’t travel very far.
Do you have favorite half hour dramas? Add them to the comments below. For any opening hit the title above, or watch all the openings on the Playlist here.
Related: Too Much Drama