There was a time when westerns outnumbered cop shows or sitcoms on television. In fact, in 1959, there were 26 westerns on prime time TV. The genre continued to be a staple of TV programming until the 70s, when the popularity began to wane. Still, those of us born and raised in the 50s and 60s have fond memories of the series we grew up with. My personal favorites were – and still are -- Here Come the Brides , The Big Valley , and The High Chaparral.
Networks continue to experiment with reviving the western. AMC recently brought us Hell on Wheels, set after the Civil War and focusing on those working on the Transcontinental Railroad. FX has given us a modern-day western in the form of Justified , based on the writings of Elmore Leonard . Most recently A&E network has aired Longmire, another modern-day western based on the series of novels by Craig Johnson .
Whatever the context, the western genre continues much as it always has. One man or one group of people trying to do the right thing, often against great odds, for no other reason than, well, that it’s just the right, lawful thing to do. Sometimes a series might delve in the more disturbing – and maybe a bit more accurate -- side of life in the Old West. But all in all, westerns continue to intrigue and entertain us.
For a look at some of the best westerns that TV has offered, check out some of these series and mini-series. And let me know what your favorites are.
The Big Valley  (1965-1969) The Lone Ranger  (1949-1957)
Bonanza  (1959-1973) Lonesome Dove  (1989)
Centennial  (1978-1979) Maverick  (1957-1962)
Dead Man’s Walk  (1996) Rawhide  (1959-1965)
Deadwood  (2004-2006) Streets of Laredo  (1995)
Gunsmoke  (1955-1975) Wagon Train  (1957-1965)
Have Gun, Will Travel  (1957-1963) Wanted: Dead or Alive  (1958-1961)
Here Come the Brides  (1968-1970) The Wild Wild West  (1965-1969)
Honorable mention: Joss Whedon’s science fiction series Firefly  (2002) owes much of its story and look to the western genre. Starring Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, and Gina Torres, it’s a show worthy of the label “Western.”