Why Western TV shows are great?

Discussion in 'TV on DVD and Blu-ray' started by JamesSmith, Dec 3, 2009.

  1. JamesSmith

    JamesSmith Screenwriter

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    Dear Guys:

    I have mixed feelings about westerns. Some like The High Chapparal, the Big Valley and the comical episodes of Bonanza I've enjoyed but others I haven't. For me, Gunsmoke was very dry and not very interesting.

    For those of you old west fans out there, could you tell me a bit more about your favorite western series and episodes? I know some of you are out there, but could you try to tell me about which tales of the genre you might recommend if somone was debating buying a trial series?

    Maybe someone could explain the appearl of Gunsmoke to me, I could get into it. Or maybe Wagon Train?

    One observation I've made is that most of the interesting things happened to the guest stars as opposed to the main recurring characters in the majority of the episodes. Granted, that happens in a great deal of dramas (you can't kill the stars, the recurring characters, etc) but still . . .it seems the really great moments didn't happen to James' Arness' Matt Dillon for the majority of the episodes. . . . That's not to say he didn't get his great episodes or moments to shine, but for the majority of the time, some of the series had limits where they could go.

    Comments? Opinions?

    James
     
  2. Neil Brock

    Neil Brock Cinematographer

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    Well, we obviously have different tastes. I find Bonanza unwatchable and I think High Chaparral is even worse. As far as the stories being guest star driven, that's what made for the best television shows, the ones that were built around that week's guest stars and the regulars are just peripheral to the story. That's why I don't enjoy modern shows as much as they involve the regulars too much and not enough involves the guest stars. You can do any kind of story each week that you want with a guest star but there's only so much you can do if you focus week after week around the regulars.
     
  3. michael_ks

    michael_ks Screenwriter

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    "Bonanza" falls into the unwatchable category for me as well and while I enjoy HC and BV, they're not among the very best of tv westerns, IMO. My favorites are "Rawhide", "Have Gun Will Travel", "The Rifleman", "Wagon Train" and "Wanted: Dead or Alive" because, unlike "Bonanza" they have more grit and realism. The fact that they are in B&W from the golden age of television westerns helps alot. It's interesting how the half hour westerns tend to focus as much on the main cast as the guest stars whereas in the hour length or longer shows, the guest stars receive more attention.
     
  4. smithb

    smithb Screenwriter

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    Most of these westerns I never saw as a kid but I am seeing plenty of them now. I must own about 20+ of these 50's through 60's series and I like them all for the most part. I'm currently 48 so I seemed to just miss when some were on TV. The Western genre is the easiest for me to get into of the old shows. Next are the family, cop and spy drama's, while comedies the biggest hit or miss.

    Many shows are driven by a single star: Restless Gun, Cheyenne, Tate, Texan, Wanted Dead or Alive, Have Gun Will Travel, Maverick to name a few I own. While I've been enjoying all of these, there is something to be said for having a larger cast where they can build upon their relationships over time. Many are based on the lone gunslinger going from town to town. Some have interesting side twists but these would probably not be a first choice recommendation.

    Another thing to consider is the 30 to 60 to 90 minute formats. Generally the shorter times have tighter stories, which isn't a bad idea when written well, but the longer one's have more time to build out the story.

    Of the one's with bigger casts: Big Valley, Rawhide, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Laredo. Some tend to focus more on the core group while others on the guest stars. Wagon Train probably focus most on the guest stars while Rawhide and Bonanza on the core group. Both can be entertaining. Some build in more comedy elements then others.

    That is why based on your take about Big Valley and some of Bonanza, as well as saying Gunsmoke came across as very dry. My recommendations would first be:

    Laredo. Of all of them I find Laredo to have the most comical elements. The four main characters play well off each other (especially Nevelle Brand). This show is as much a western as the others but it has a very relaxed enjoyable feel, like the actors were really having a good time of it. It onle had a few year run. Neville Brand was also doing movies and I don't think he liked being tied down to this one show and without him there was no one to really pick on. The prints aren't as nice as some, but they are acceptabel and in color if that matters.

    Second, Wagon Train. This one surprised me since I started out more of a Rawhide guy (which I still enjoy very much). It just has really good stories in my opionion and does play off the guest stars a lot. From what I read guest stars really liked doing Wagon Train because it gave them a lot of opportunity. Again the main characters do not have as much a focus. From what I have seen of Season 1 there is a bit more focus on Ward Bond and the scout then in later seasons. The first season is based on 60 minute b/w episodes. A later season available contains 90 minute color episodes.

    I'm sure you will get a lot of comments to help you out. Good luck.
     
  5. Gary OS

    Gary OS Producer

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    My tastes are definitely more in line with guys like Neil, Michael and Brad. I don't really care for Bonanza at all, even though I did buy the 1st Season set when I got a great price on it. But I can state pretty emphatically that I will not be buying any more sets. That was more just to have a representation of the show in my collection. I feel the same about The High Chapparal. It's near the bottom for me.

    I do like The Big Valley, but that's due at least in part to the cast. They played off each other well and the stories were generally solid. So I do like that show, but not because of any comedy element or "lightheartedness" in the stories. As Michael stated, it's the grit and realism of shows like Rawhide (my absolute favorite western series of all time), Have Gun Will Travel and Gunsmoke (at least the early years) that attract me. Another factor for me is the use of sets versus on location shots. I can't stand the stuffy studio feel of shows like Bonanza where most everything is a backdrop instead of open, outdoor shooting. But that's just my personal preference. It's those fabulous open field shots that make Rawhide so wonderful to me.


    Gary "Wagon Train falls right in the middle for me - I like it better than many westerns, but it doesn't top Rawhide, HGWT or Gunsmoke in my book" O.
     
  6. Billy Batson

    Billy Batson Cinematographer

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    I was born in 1950 in the UK (West London), so was the right age (8-13) to have all these great westerns inprinted on my brain, Wagon Train, Have Gun Will Travel, Maverick, Cheyenne ect. And I think they all stand up really well today.
     
  7. bobPON

    bobPON Stunt Coordinator

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    Cheyenne is definitely my favorite but I also like Rawhide, The Rebel and Have Gun Will Travel. The Dakotas was also a great show. As a kid my faves were Bat Masterson, Yancy Derringer, Shotgun Slade, Wanted Dead or Alive and Broken Arrow. For comedy in westerns Laredo and Maverick stand out as the best.
     
  8. Hollywoodaholic

    Hollywoodaholic Edge of Glory?

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    Like Gary, I prefer Westerns shot on location in the real outdoor West, and not on a soundstage, especially for features. With television series, and the budget limitations they impose, it's all about character for me. The show sinks or swims on the charisma or appeal of the leading character. Here's my top ten favorite western series characters (starting with most favorite.)

    Doug McClure as Trampas in The Virginian
    James Garner as Bret Maverick in Maverick
    Gene Barry as Bat Masterson
    Pete Duel as Hannibal Heyes in Alias Smith and Jones
    Frank McGrath as Charlie Wooster on Wagon Train
    Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain on The Rifleman
    Richard Boone as Paladin in Have Gun Will Travel
    Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide
    Don Murray as Earl Corey in The Outcasts
    Larry Storch as Corporal Agarn in F Troop

    The top is heavy with characters that also wear a little humor on their gunbelts (and then there's one where that's ALL he wears).

    I'm very happy to see that the first season of The Virginian is finally coming out. The appeal of an 90-minute western was to really immerse you in those characters and that life.

    You can't go wrong for entertainment with a season from any of these shows, IMO.
     
  9. Jeff Willis

    Jeff Willis Producer

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    Good thread, James.

    Big Valley: It would be hard for me to rate my favorite Westerns in order but I'd have to put this one as #1 for now. The main reason is what Gary mentioned, the way the cast worked well together and, imo, perfect casting for the characters. Most of the scripts, I liked in that show.

    After BV, it gets tougher for me to rate them but I'll give it a go....

    Rawhide: Same reasons as Gary mentioned, since it has that "open range" feel to it.

    Rifleman: This was the one I grew up with after school, watching Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford work together as the Father & Son storyline. Meeting Johnny in person later was icing on the cake for me. That opening theme to the show is one I couldn't ever forget. I even won a bet at my last job when I told a guy that I knew the # of shots that "Luke" discharged with his Winchester during the opening theme scene in the street. Answer: 13

    Wild Wild West: Debatable as considering it a Western, but it's another boyhood favorite. That opening theme's unforgettable to me.

    Alias Smith & Jones: Since it was patterned after the movie "Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid", that movie ranks among my all-time favorites so "Alias..." was a sure-thing for me. As mentioned earlier, I thought Pete Duel was perfect in that role.

    Wanted Dead or Alive: As a Steve McQueen fan, it's fun watching him in the "loner" role earlier in his career.

    Wagon Train: I haven't seen any of them until I bought that color/BW set last year but I remember some of them when Dad watched it in its original airings. As Brad mentioned, the stories were more centered around the guest spots which was a change from a lot of the other Westerns back then.

    There are some others that I'd probably like to watch, but I have to choose TV/DVD sets more sparingly these days so I haven't picked up some of the other ones, like "Cheyenne", "Laredo", etc.

    The ones that I didn't like as much as others:

    Gunsmoke. I know, it's an all-time classic and set records with an amazingly long run, but I just didn't like it as much as others for some reason. Strange to me, but I really liked James Arness in that miniseries role in "How the West Was Won", way more than his Gunsmoke show. After a while, "Festus" sort of wore thin for me....not sure why.

    Bonanza: Another one that was very popular, but for some reason, I wasn't a fan of the show.

    Maverick: I wasn't as fond of the Westerns with a comical touch, except for "Alias...". But I really like James Garner in other roles. "Rockford Files" is among my favorite in the collection.
     
  10. smithb

    smithb Screenwriter

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    Rifleman would definitely be up there as a favorite for me since I was able to catch a few as a kid. However, I didn't put it on my list since I can neither buy them or record them right now

    If they ever manage to get the series out on DVD again and in chronological order that would be a top purchase for me.
     
  11. Ockeghem

    Ockeghem Ockeghem

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    If I had to take westerns with me to the desert island, I would want them in this order:

    The Rifleman
    The Big Valley
    Rawhide
    Bonanza
     
  12. Gary OS

    Gary OS Producer

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    Great comments, Jeff. It's so hard to start rattling off westerns I like because there are so, so many from the 50's and 60's that are enjoyable to me. You mentioned a couple more that I definitely enjoyed.

    Wild, Wild West (the 1st Season in particular, which had more of a "western" feel to it)

    Rifleman (definitely in my Top 10 Westerns list)

    I also enjoy a few of the lesser known westerns like Tate, The Deputy, Tales of Wells Fargo and The Wide Country, which has some beautiful scenery in its short opening credits. And I'd include The Lone Ranger and Daniel Boone as two more that often get overlooked.


    Gary "the western genre is undoubtedly my favorite of all time just because of the sheer number of series I like" O.
     
  13. bretmaverick2

    bretmaverick2 Supporting Actor

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    There are some westerns I prefer over others. Western movies as a whole, aren't a genre I am interested in BUT some western TV series I am huge fan of.

    MAVERICK - No surprise there that this is my favorite western series. Even though the various leads rarely appear together, there is a real family feel to the show. The constant references to Pappy, various continuing characters, the introduction of cousin Beau after Garner left the series. That and the fact that it is just a well written, well plotted show. Not often mentioned is that during it's initial run, the episodes featuring Bart were often slightly highter rated that those featuring Bret!

    BIG VALLEY - Another show that features family set in the west. The casting was spot on in this series. The writing was strong and the fact that each lead actor on the show shared the spotlight from episode to episode helped with the shows strength. SIDENOTE - did each of the five lead actors have an episode that featured their character having amnedia???

    CHEYENNE - Another strong western. Although a bit more traditional than the other two that I like, the fact that I enjoy this show so much leads me to believe that there is a strength in general in the Warner Brothers western genre.

    I wish I could see other WB westerns like Sugarfott, etc.
     
  14. Jeff Willis

    Jeff Willis Producer

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    I can't believe every time I forget...."A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi Ho Silver!"

    That Lone Ranger set, Gary had to help me off the fence on that one since I wasn't sure (for me) that it would hold up over time. Fortunately, it has done that and more. That set is a real gem of a release in TV/DVD sets. That's another one I watched after school way back in the early 60's. All you young guys missed that
     
  15. JoshuaB.

    JoshuaB. Second Unit

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    I love film Westerns, but I've never warmed up to their TV counterparts. Having said that, I do love Maverick, mainly because of James Garner (I would love to see the entire series on DVD) and the use of humour and The Wild Wild West, which managed to fuse the Western, espionage and science fiction into one very memorable package.

    And though it isn't a Western, I've always loved the Western episodes of The Twilight Zone, particularly "Mr. Denton on Doomsday" and "The Grave"--very atmospheric and creepy!
     
  16. JamesSmith

    JamesSmith Screenwriter

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    Thanks guys, but can any of you tell me if there are some episodes that really stand out in the western genre.

    One episode that's kind of a landmark to me was the season opener to the last season of Bonanza entitled "Forever." It had a very different tone of an episode because it dealt with the aftermath of Hoss' death (though nothing was specifically mentioned) and Little Joe falling in love with a young girl.

    Guess what happens?

    Remember this is Bonanza.

    And remember the Cartwright creed when it comes to women.
    It stands out to me because when I first saw it, I was about 10 and I started crying at the end.

    Now today I'm much more cynical and jaded, and probably much more aware of the excessive sentimentality of some shows--remember Brians Song people?

    Anyway other memorable western episodes:

    The episode on Wagon Train when Robert Fuller is blinded and has to be taken care of by a bitter young woman. The revelation at the end never fails to get to me. Sorry I don't know the title.

    Another Wagon Train. Robert Fuller comes across a Chinese settlement and finds out that he resembles the matriarch's late husband. The future Dr. Gannon does a fine job in a duo role.

    Any of the Bonanza episodes where Little Joe and Hoss have one of their comical schemes. Loved the look on Little Joe and Hoss' faces when they find out they accidentally knocked, their facther Ben unconscous when the lights were out. One of them starts to cry. That was priceless.

    I always thought Bonanza worked better with their comical episodes than their serious ones.

    Young/New Maverick. Always enjoyed Charles Frank and Susan Blanchard's chemistry. Only about 8 hours of this program.

    Other episodes that stick out in your mind, guys?

    James
     
  17. bretmaverick2

    bretmaverick2 Supporting Actor

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    From MAVERICK - the landmark episode seems to be Shady Deal At Sunny Acres. This is the ultimate Maverick con game and uses a lot fo the recurring characters from the series. It also marks the final appearance of a couple of those characters, including Samantha Crawford.
    The other landmark episode is PAPPY. That is the episode where we finally meet the oft referred to father of Bret and Bart. Pappy is played by Garner. We also meet Pappy's brother, Bentley, obviously played by Jack Kelly.

    But really, is there a bad episode of MAVERICK?? I don't think so.

    From the series BIG VALLEY, an episode that always stood out in my mind is the one where the mother, Victoria, is kidnapped and held by a man out for revenger for something or other. Victoria is tied up in his basement and they try to brainwash her with multicolored lights. But, like MAVERICK, I don't think there is really a bad episode of this series.
     
  18. Hollywoodaholic

    Hollywoodaholic Edge of Glory?

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    My favorite episode of The Virginian from the first season is simply called "West."

    Here's the episode description ....

    Seeking some excitement in his life, Trampas joins a groups of older cowboys (Steve Cochran, James Brown, Claude Akins) who set off to find adventure in what they still believe is the wild, lawless West. However, their outdated attitudes lead them into trouble and eventually, tragedy.
    The episode actually dealt with all the stereotypes and preconceptions about Westerns and cowboys and what a barrel of fun it must have been, but then turns the whole party on its ear with some very harsh realities. A powerful episode that still stands out in my mind 47 years later.

    As a kid, I wanted to be Trampas, the fun-loving, free-spirited cowboy who always knew how to have a good time in every situation. Imagine my surprise when a mutual friend introduced me to Doug McClure (and his fifth wife) 18 years later at his Beverly Hills Four Seasons suite and I discovered ... he WAS Trampas. We hung out and he wanted to party non-stop, and had the attention span of a kid desperately seeking the next distraction. It was exhilirating for at time, but at a burn-out pace, like a ride best enjoyed in short bursts - but that was how he was 24/7, and no doubt what contributed to his early death. So, in life, the experience that was Doug McClure totally matched what Trampas and this episode were all about.
     
  19. silverking

    silverking Guest

    I grew up watching TV westerns & have been collecting them for about 30 years on tape & now disc. Unfortunately there are over 120 series & only a handful have been released.

    There are some excellent mostly short lived shows that will never see the light of day but deserve to. Two of my favourites are 'Gunslinger' a Charles Marquis Warren (Rawhide) series about a gunfighter attached to the US cavalry & 'Dundee & the Culhane' , John Mills as an attorney traveling around the west & defending clients in some very unlikely places - eg bottom of a coal mine, an indian camp etc.

    There were also long forgoten shows like 'Two Faces West', 'The Outcasts' 'Klondike' & many many others.


    Anyway, episodes of 'Bonanza' I would recommend are 'The Crucible' - Adam is forced to work in a gold mine by a madman (Lee Marvin) , & 'Twilight Town' - Little Joe finds himself in a very strange town after being injured. There were many, many others but these two spring to mind.

    The ' Big Valley' episode where Victoria is kidnapped is 'Emperor of Rice'. I found BV to be a constantly entertaining series throughout its run.
     
  20. bretmaverick2

    bretmaverick2 Supporting Actor

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    Speaking of Big Valley, does anyone know or remember if youngest son Eugene was ever mentioned or seen again after he left town after the first season??

    Eugene Barkley - The Chuck Cunningham of the West!!
     

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