The Western genre is America’s most unique contribution to the entertainment world. Not only is it a movie staple, but it is also a staple of television for decades. During the early days of television, it was the Westerns, which became one of the first programs to gain widespread popularity. Here in this article, we comb through the top 10 Western TV shows of all time.
Gunsmoke regularly tops every list of the best Western TV series of all time. It was initially a radio series created by writer John Meston and director Norman McDonnell. The stories take place in and around Dodge City, Kansas, during the settlement of the American West.
The television series was aired in 1955 on CBS and was one of the first Western dramas to appear on the small screen. It ran for 20 seasons with half-hour episodes during the earlier seasons and then hour-long ones in the later seasons. It featured memorable characters such as Matt Dillon (the main and central character, played by Jess Arness on the TV adaptation), Doc Adams, Miss Kitty Russell, and Chester Goode.
The Virginian was broadcast on NBC from 1962 to 1971. While it was actually a spin-off from another series called Decision, The Virginian held up well on its own. It starred James Drury, Doug McClure, and Lee J. Cobb, and later John Dehner, Charles McIntire, and Stewart Granger. It is about a series of events that happened at the Shiloh Ranch in Wyoming, which changed hands. The Virginian became the first 90-minute Western series in US television history.
The Rifleman aired on ABC for five seasons (1958 – 1963) for a total of 168 episodes. It starred Chuck Connors as Union Civil war veteran, rancher, and widower Lucas McCain and Johnny Crawford as his son Mark McCain. The series was set in the fictional town of North Fork, New Mexico Territory in the 1880s. It also became a trailblazer on the US television history as it was the first prime time series of its kind about a single parent raising a child.
Bonanza is one of the longest-running Western TV series. It premiered on NBC in 1959 and ended in 1973 for a total of 431 seasons. The series was set in Nevada ranch called Ponderosa, during the Civil War era. The ranch was owned by the patriarch Ben Cartwright, a single father of three grown sons. Bonanza was one of those “G-rated” Westerns intended for the typical American family, tackling issues that centered around the Cartwright family, their ranch, and the community.
Rawhide was aired on CBS from 1959 to 1965 for a total of 217 episodes. It starred Eric Fleming as trail boss Gil Favor (from seasons one to seven) and a young Clint Eastwood as ramrod Rowdy Yates (who became a trail boss in season eight). The series is about trail boss Favor and his band of drovers taking cattle from Texas to Kansas, and the adventures and misadventures they encountered along the way.
Cheyenne aired on ABC from 1955 to 1962 for a total of eight seasons and 107 episodes. The series is set in the Civil War era and centers on the adventures of Cheyenne Bodie, a cowboy who roams the west – beating up the bad guys and wooing women – while in continuous search for frontier justice. Clint Walker starred in the title role.
Have Gun, Will Travel was broadcast on CBS from 1957 through 1963, for a total of six seasons and 225 episodes. It was a story about a hired gunman named Paladin traveling around the Old West working as a mercenary for people who hire him to deal with their problems. It starred Richard Boone as Paladin.
Wanted: Dead or Alive starred Steve McQueen as the bounty hunter Josh Randall. It was broadcast for three seasons (1958 – 1961) for a total of 94 episodes. It was a spin-off of an earlier series Trackdown; both programs were produced by Four Star Television and also aired on CBS.
Wagon Train was inspired by the 1950 John Ford movie Wagon Master. It aired on NBC from 1957 to 1965, for a total of eight seasons and 284 episodes.
The format of this series attracted big-name stars who would appear in major roles as occupants inside a large wagon train, or as characters in the settlements they visited. Ward Bond originally played the role of a wagon master until his death in 1960; he was then replaced by John McIntire.
Maverick went on air from 1957 to 1962 for a total of five seasons and 124 episodes. This series from ABC is one of the few Western productions with comic overtones. It starred James Garner as Bert Maverick and Jack Kelly as his brother Bart Maverick. It’s about poker-loving brothers who also used guns and got a lot of many sorts of trouble that usually involved money, women, or both.