Can someone make a recommendation for or against purchasing Wagon Train from Timeless? It's a show I've always been interested in and I'm finally starting to consider it. Are the shows watchable? Is there any way to purchase them in something other than a tin?
The Timeless releases are, I think, good quality. Seems to be for sale at Amazon for c. $35, which is about a dollar per episode. As I'm sure you know, the TV Western for grown-ups was launched in 1955 with shows like Gunsmoke, which was a half-hour show done at first on a very low production budget. It was such a ratings hit, however, that in 1957 the bigger-budget Wagon Train debuted. It was an hour-long show that tried to do almost a mini-Western movie with each episode. The shows are mostly good and watchable, with big guest stars and lots of location photography. The DVDs usually have good enough picture quality. Like almost all Westerns of the time, however, there are sometimes racist stereotypes of "Indians," who once-in-a-while get shot down repeatedly almost videogame style. That can be bothersome imho, but you have to make some allowances for the era in which this show was made.
The huge success of Wagon Train helped inspire other Westerns, including my favorite which I'll make a brief plug for: The Virginian, starring James Drury in the title role, which debuted in 1962. It was in some ways the high point of the TV Western. With a 90-minute timeslot (75 minutes without commercials) it really was a full little Western movie each week in color, with lots of location photography, as well as big guest stars like Lee Marvin, Robert Redford, etc. The Virginian also decided they didn't want to use the cliche of the yelling Indian, and with just a couple of exceptions they did that during the long run of the show. It has gunplay, but is less of a shoot-em-up Western than a drama set in the West. Mostly the long running time works, but it's true that a few episodes feel slow and padded. Wagon Train is a little more "action packed," but less sophisticated.
Anyway, my bottom line is that Wagon Train is a good show, but The Virginian is even better imho. The picture quality for The Virginian is also better, because it was seemingly better preserved and had a more recent and thorough remaster. For some reason, first season of The Virginian costs only $15- $25, which is a bargain for 30 Western movies.