Daily Dirt: My first thought for 2023? We need more westerns

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Daily Dirt for Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023

First of all, if you are wondering how I am doing following that Ohio State playoff loss to Georgia on Saturday, I’m doing fine. Just fine, according to my family doctor. Welcome to today’s three thoughts that make up Vol. 489 of The Daily Dirt.

1. Bring back Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Marshall Dillon and all of the other western heroes we used to enjoy on prime-time TV. We’re long overdue for such a small-screen comeback.

There was a time when westerns dominated more than half of the prime-time TV hours. As their popularity began to fade in the 1970s, the detective/lawyer-type programs gained a foothold. Law enforcement shows have always been a dominant viewing force.

But let’s get back to westerns. Why were they so popular, and why could they be again? The key to any successful western of the past (or, hopefully, the future) is the central figure of the show, the sheriff or resident good guy upholding all that was right in the world.

Since my TV viewing dates to the early 1960s (and even before, thanks to satellite and cable TV reruns), I’ve watched in great length just about every old western ever produced. For instance, I’m currently working my way through the seven years of “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.”

I should note I have included a handful of characters from “modern-day” westerns in this group, simply because they belong. And as popular and successful as they were, it also shows there remains a niche for this kind of programming, even among younger viewers who did not grow up in the 1950s, 1960s or even the 1970s.

Here are my picks for the top 10 western lawmen, or those who kept the bad guys at bay on TV:

  • 1. Hugh O’Brian (Wyatt Earp), “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”: O’Brian portrayed the fabled lawman for 229 episodes. Many don’t realize that Earp’s hometown was Monmouth, Ill., 99 miles northeast of Quincy.
  • 2. Gene Barry (Bat Masterson), “Bat Masterson”: “He wore a cane and derby hat, they called him Bat, Bat Masterson.” Masterson served as a newspaper reporter in his later years.
  • 3. James Arness (Matt Dillon), “Gunsmoke”: Arguably the best-known TV lawman of them all. “Gunsmoke” aired for 20 years (ending in 1975), all with Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon.
  • 4. Clint Eastwood (Rowdy Yates),” Rawhide”: This was the first series to show Eastwood as a cowboy, back during his early years (1959-66) as a relative unknown talent. The show revolved around cattle drives making their way across the country, led by trail boss Gil Favor (Eric Fleming)and his trusted assistant, Rowdy Yates. Favor and Yates — mostly Yates — were not opposed to cracking heads and shooting bad guys to help make the west a better place.
  • 5. Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), “Hell On Wheels”: This classic ran on AMC from 2011-2016, with Bohannon the central figure. He was an enforcer-type for a company building the first transcontinental railroad. A lot of shooting, fighting and good old-fashioned mayhem.
  • 6. Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), “Deadwood”: This is another of those modern-day series, 2004-06 on HBO. Yeah, the show was a bit foul and bawdy, but for pure western entertainment it was hard to beat. Olyphant and Ian McShane (Al Swearengen) were the glue holding this marvelous program together.
  • 7. James T. West (Robert Conrad), “The Wild Wild West”: This classic dealt with West and his sidekick, Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin), who were government agents dealing with extremely sketchy bad guys in the old west. It had a futuristic feel during its 1965-69 running.
  • 8. Paladin (Richard Boone), “Have Gun, Will Travel”: Paladin, the man in black whose whose first name never was revealed, was the most famous brooding cowboy until Clint Eastwood came along a few years after this show’s 1957 debut.
  • 9. Cheyenne Bodie (Clint Walker), “Cheyenne”: I watched this show as a young Eighinger and recently got reacquainted with a program I now feel was greatly ahead of its original time (1955-62). Its hour length allowed it to deal with subjects unable to fit in the more familiar 30-minute time frames of many westerns of the day. 
  • 10. Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors), “The Rifleman“: The best (instrumental) theme song of any western. Ever.

2. Since we’re welcoming in a new year today, it’s time to crown our best 2022 license plates found across West-Central Illinois and northwest Missouri.

  • Gold medal: IMDUMB. A classic plate in every regard. Congrats to whoever owns it.
  • Silver medal: OHYO ST8. I’ll admit, if the Buckeyes had beaten Georgia in Saturday’s college football semifinals this plate this plate may have moved up to No. 1.
  • Bronze medal: NO ETA. My wife actually spotted this while we were driving around town a couple of weeks ago. Way to go, Kath!

3. I talked with a fellow Ohio State fan after that heartbreaking 42-41 loss to Georgia. As expected, he was upset with the defeat. I was, too, of course, but I gave him the same advice that was given to me following a Cleveland Indians World Series loss years ago.

“Don’t be upset your team lost, be grateful it was playing for a championship,” I was told.

I kept repeating over and over and over and over Saturday night.

Steve Thought O’ The Day
A traditional New Year’s meal in Denmark is boiled cod with mustard. And with a Pepto Bismol chaser, I assume.

Steve Eighinger writes daily for Muddy River News. If he had his own western on TV, we believe his name would be Chick Wells and his horse’s name would be Buckeye.

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