DAILY DIRT: Gunplay, gamblers and Godfathers of the wild, wild west


The cast of Gunsmoke (CBS).

Daily Dirt for Sunday, March 19, 2023

When I was a wee lad, I always wanted to have been a cowboy — until I found out they didn’t have TV in the old days of Dodge City … Welcome to today’s three thoughts that make up Vol. 556 of The Daily Dirt.

1. Cowboys and Indians magazine offers an interesting ranking of the top 20 TV westerns and western-themed programming, dating from the late 1940s to the present.

Here’s how that top 20 looked, according to author Joe Leydon, who I quote in this piece:

1. “Gunsmoke (1955-75)”: “The longest-running western in the history of American television – and one of the longest-running TV dramas of any sort – ‘Gunsmoke’ almost immediately transformed James Arness into a home-screen superstar for his portrayal of Matt Dillon, the straight-shooting marshal of 1870s Dodge City, Kansas.”

2. “Bonanza (1959-73)”: “‘Bonanza’ was must-see TV for millions during its 14-season, 430-episode run on NBC. And even now, more than 40 years after its final network telecast, there continues to be a large and faithful audience for the hour-long adventures of Ben Cartwright (and his family).”

3. “Maverick (1957-62)”: “‘Maverick’ stood out from the multitude of other prime-time westerns during the 1950s and ’60s by taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to cowboy conventions. Rambling gamblers Bret (James Garner) and Bart Maverick (Jack Kelly) preferred dealing cards to shooting straight, relied on smooth talk more than fast draws, and resorted to gunplay only when they couldn’t charm or bluff their way out of trouble.”

4. “The Lone Ranger (1949-57): “Long after ‘The Lone Ranger’ completed its lengthy network run, throngs of cable, internet and home-video viewers – including many who were not yet born when over 220 first-run episodes aired on ABC – still heed the call of announcer Fred Foy: ‘A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi-Yo Silver!’ The Lone Ranger!’”

5. “Have Gun, Will Travel (1957-63)”: “Richard Boone was Paladin, the elegant but lethal gunslinger … who enhanced the mystery of his mythos by maintaining a dual identity worthy of a comic book hero.”

6. “Hell on Wheels (2011-16)”: “Over the course of five eventful seasons, ‘Hell on Wheels’ (starring Anson Mount) evolved gradually and engrossingly into a full-scale, multifaceted, and multicultural epic quite unlike anything seen before or since on American television.”

7. “Wagon Train (1957-65)”: “During 228 episodes that aired over eight seasons on two different networks, scores of guest stars (including such notables as Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Charles Laughton and future President Ronald Reagan) were led by grizzled wagon masters — first Ward Bond, then John McIntire — on arduous overland treks from Missouri to California.”

8. “Yellowstone (2018-present)”: “This modern-day classic (featuring the adventures of the Dutton family) has been described by one critic as ‘Bonanza Meets The Godfather’ — and we can’t argue with that assessment.” 

9. “Rawhide (1959-66)”: “Clint Eastwood earned his spurs as ramrod (and, eventually, trail boss) Rowdy Yates, a role he played for the entire run of ‘Rawhide’.” 

10. “Cheyenne (1955-63)”: “The first hour-long western in television history, ‘Cheyenne’ showcased the late, great Clint Walker in an irresistibly appealing portrayal of the title character, a broad-shouldered, good-humored cowboy who was raised by Cheyenne Indians, and dedicated himself to doing good while wandering the post-Civil War West.”

The rest: 11. “Longmire (2012-17)”; 12. “Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958-61)”; 13. “The Rifleman (1958-63)”; 14. “The Virginian (1962-71)”; 15. “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955-61)”; 16. “The Big Valley (1965-69)”; 17. “Bat Masterson (1958-61)”; 18. “The High Chaparral (1967-71)”; 19. “Justified (2010-15)”; 20. “Deadwood (2004-06)”.

2. According to betmgm.com, the following three MLB managers are the betting favorites to be fired first this season:

1. Dave Martinez, Washington: This hardly seems fair, considering the woeful roster Martinez has been handed.

2. Aaron Boone, New York Yankees: If the Yanks are struggling early in the season, Boone will be lucky to make it until June.

3. Derek Shelton, Pittsburgh: You can’t fire the whole team, so Shelton will likely be the sacrificial lamb at some point. The Bucs have lost a combined 201 games the last two seasons and have had one winning record (82-79, 2018) since 2015.

3. As promised Saturday, today we feature our favorite one-hit wonders from the 1980s:

1. “Take on Me,” by A-ha: The 1985 video, with its black-and-white characterizations, is one of the all-time classics.

2. “99 Luftballoons,” by Nena: The German version of the 1983 hit was much more popular than the English recording.

3. “Mickey,” by Toni Basil: A surprise to many was that the cheerleading Basil was 38 at the time of the video made its 1981 debut.

Steve Thought O’ The Day – Concerning those rankings in thought No. 1, I’m not sure how “Justified” counts as a western. A great show? Certainly. A western, or western-esque? No.

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