92 Classic (and Not-So-Classic) TV Westerns of the 1950s

Certain decades have brought with them undeniable changes in television to reflect evolving audience tastes, especially when it comes to dramas. For instance, look at the 1970s, where police dramas and private detective shows ruled the airwaves, from James Garner’s The Rockford Files to Peter Falk’s Columbo, William Conrad’s Cannon and Buddy Ebsen’s Barnaby Jones. The 1960s saw people jumping on the James Bond bandwagon with shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E.Get Smart (admittedly a comedy), I Spy and Mission: Impossible. But in the 1950s, it was all about the Western.

By our count, between the start of that decade (actually, beginning in 1947) until its end, there were no less than 92 Western TV shows produced for the big three networks of the time. Those, of course, were ABC, CBS and NBC, for anyone lost in the hundreds of channels and streaming services available to us today. And then there was first-run syndication, meaning that many shows aired on local stations around the country. That is an astounding amount of programming in a single genre, and while there came to be a certain sameness about a lot of their premises, there were many unique takes as well.

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Moviestore/Shutterstock

Boyd Magers, author of, among other books, A Gathering of Guns: A Half Century History of TV Westernsand webmaster of westernclippings.com, notes that the Western genre went through quite a change on its journey from the big screen to the small.

“There was a definite transition from the theatrical Westerns of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Johnny Mack Brown and all the others that even went all the way back to the silents. As television came along in the late 1940s, Hopalong Cassidy got all of those films on television and then created a half-hour television show on top of that. That was huge, because Hopalong Cassidy was enormously popular. All of those Westerns that followed — usually half-hour Westerns — were juvenile-oriented at first with Buffalo Bill, Jr., Kit Carson, The Lone Ranger and things like that. They just wiped out the theatrical ‘B’ Westerns. There were a lot of Westerns still being made, but the juvenile Westerns transferred to television. And as that kind of wore thin, along came Wyatt EarpGunsmoke and all the other so-called adult Westerns. That was the big transition, and then there were just a plethora of them on television for quite a few years into the late ’60s.”

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Snap/Shutterstock

While Boyd can’t determine which series was his favorite from that decade (“It changes with my mood,” he laughs), he notes that there are definitely some standouts. “Gunsmoke obviously ran for 20 years, and it was the best that there was,” he opines. “I mean, you look at the writing and acting and everything else. It was far above anything that came along. There were still half-hour adult Westerns like Wyatt Earp, Shotgun Slade, Daniel Boone and then along came the Davy Crockett craze, so it’s hard to single out favorites. But The Virginian, Bonanza and Gunsmoke were the three biggest of them all.”

Although the Western genre continued well into the 1960s, he does acknowledge that there can be — and was — too much of a good thing. “Bob Hope,” he says, “used to joke that NBC was nothing but cowboys, and that was true. There were just too many and all of a sudden they started to make private detective shows and cop shows and it just kind of changed. Trends always have a way of wearing themselves out, and the TV Western certainly did.”

Please scroll down for our guide to those 92 Westerns.