Steve Eighinger

Months later, the discussion continues

By Herald-Whig
Posted: May. 30, 2019 7:20 am

A few months ago, I unintentionally opened up a can of worms.

The can of worms was good-natured, but the bottom line is I never saw this particular can coming.

In early March, I wrote a column about my favorite western-themed movies, which was topped by the 1941 classic "They Died With Their Boots On." The Errol Flynn film was based -- rather loosely -- on the life and times of Gen. George Armstrong Custer and featured some tremendous action scenes, plus a great score.

As is the case with any sort of "ranking," there are always those who agree and those who disagree, which normally makes for some spirited conversation(s). This spirited conversation eventually took on a life of its own, and it's been one I've had a lot of fun with over the past two-plus months.

The talk about western movies eventually worked its way to the best western TV programs, and for baby boomers like myself that can be a hot topic. Westerns ruled much of the TV airwaves from the 1950s through the 1970s. There have been a handful of westerns since that golden era, but nothing like that 30-year period when there were normally at least a couple of shoot-'em-up shows to choose from each night of the week.

And if you're part of the generation that grew up with "Gunsmoke," "The Lone Ranger" and "Bonanza," I'm sure that you have an opinion on which ones were the best.

So after two months and quite a bit of arguing the merits of Bat Masterson, Matt Dillon and others, I've come up with my all-time top 10 TV westerns:

1. "Wagon Train" (1957-65): This offering literally had it all, from tremendous action to strong family values. Wagonmaster Ward Bond was the memorable star who died midway through the series. He was fittingly eulogized at his funeral by the greatest cowboy of them all, John Wayne.

2. "Gunsmoke" (1955-75): This giant of a program was more into character study than pure action, anchored by a Hall of Fame cast led by James Arness and Milburn Stone. Many of my baby boomer buddies feel this should Be No. 1.

3. "Hell on Wheels" (2011-16): This choice may surprise you. Anson Mount starred as Cullen Bohannon, a former Confederate soldier who winds up as a "railroad man." It's one of the best programs ever developed by AMC.

4. "The Lone Ranger" (1949-57): It's almost comical to watch today, but this was one of the groundbreaking series for the genre.

5. "Have Gun, Will Travel" (1957-63): A brooding Richard Boone always dressed in black and made for a must-see on Saturday nights.

6. "The Rifleman" (1958-63): Chuck Connors' classic gun, plus the best theme music of any of the westerns, were the biggest attractions.

7. "Bonanza" (1959-73): Four No. 1 actors -- Loren Green, Michael Landon, Pernell Roberts and Dan Blocker -- and some great story lines kept this program going strong.

8. "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1955-61): Hugh O'Brian remains the best Earp ever.

9. "Maverick" (1957-62): Many forget that Roger Moore, whose future would include a long run as James Bond in the movies, was a part of this cast.

10. "Lawman" (1958-62): John Russell was one of the most underrated lawmen in TV history.

Honorable mention: "Bat Masterson" (1958-61), "Adventures of Kit Carson" (1955-61), "The Rebel" (1959-61), "Broken Arrow" (1956-58), "Cheyenne" (1955-63).