1970s TV Westerns
Westerns have always been popular viewing fare on the small screen and the 1970s had their fair share of shows to satisfy just about any arm-chair cowboy. The shows ranged from comedy to drama to police detection and some became classics, enjoyed to this day in reruns and on DVD, while others simply rode off into the sunset to never be seen again.
Alias Smith and Jones
The story of two likable outlaws who had to clean up their act and stay out of trouble until the governor of California decided they deserved a pardon. Sounded like an easy task, but it turns out that they were hassled by bounty hunters, old outlaw friends who wanted them to join in on some scheme, and other temptations.
- Aired on ABC from Jan.21, 1971 to Jan.13, 1973.
- Time Slot: 60 minutes, January to September 1971, Thursday 7:30 -8:30, September 1971 to August 1972, Thursday 8:00-9:00; September 1972 to January 1973, Saturday 8:00-9:00
- Starred Peter Duel as Hannibal Heyes/Joshua Smith, Ben Murphy as Jed "Kid" Curry/Thaddeus Jones, and Sally Field as Clementine Hale.
- Peter Duel died with only a few episodes filmed of the second season, so actor Roger Davis assumed the role of Hannibal. Davis had been doing the voice over narrations for the opening and closing segments of the show.
- Sally Field was added in October 1971 as another lovable outlaw rogue to give the program a female touch.
- Notable Guest Stars: David Canary, Jack Cassidy, Glenn Corbett, Buddy Ebsen, Sid Haig, Richard Hatch, Earl Holliman, Susan St. James, Lee Majors, Monte Markham, Pernell Roberts, Forrest Tucker.
The Barbary Coast
Set in the 1870s in San Francisco's Barbary Coast area, this lively and entertaining series was the story of Jeff Cable, master of disguise and special agent who worked for the California government gathering information on many illegal activities in the area. He was helped in his assignments by Cash Conover, the owner of the local saloon (he won it in a card game).
- Aired on ABC from September 8, 1975 to January 9, 1976.
- Time Slot: 60 minutes, Sept.1975-Oct. 1975 Monday 8:00-9:00; Oct. 1975- Jan. 1976 Friday 8:00-9:00
- Starred Doug McClure as Cash Conover, William Shatner as Jeff Cable, Richard Kiel as Moose Moran and Dave Turner as Thumbs, the piano player.
- The series pilot aired on May 4, 1975 and starred Shatner and Dennis Cole in the role taken on by McClure for the series.
- Scheduled originally against Rhoda and Phyllis on CBS and The Invisible Man on NBC.
- Notable Guest Stars: Bill Bixby, Lynda Day George, Joan Van Ark, Andrew Prine.
A modern day Western/police drama set in Madrid County, California. Sheriff Sam Cade was responsible for keeping the peace in the entire county. He was assisted J.J. Jackson a veteran police officer and three young deputies, Arlo, Pete and Rudy.
- Aired on CBS from September 19, 1971 to September 4, 1972.
- Time Slot: September 1971-August 1972 Sunday 9:30- 10:30; August 1972 to September 1972 Monday 10:00-11:00
- Originally scheduled against the ABC Sunday Night Movie and Bonanza on NBC.
- Starred Glenn Ford as Sam Cade, Edgar Buchanan as J.J. Jackson, Taylor Lacher as Arlo Pritchard, Victor Campos as Rudy Davillo, Peter Ford as Pete, Sandra Ego as Joannie Little Bird (1971), Betty Ann Carr as Betty Ann Sundown.
- Peter Ford was Glenn's son.
- Notable Guest Stars:Bobby Darrin, William Shatner, Martin Sheen, Bobby Sherman, Christopher Stone, Mariette Hartley, Jay Silverheels, Loretta Swit.
Aired as a four-part mini series and told the story of the Chisholm family who had lost their land in Virginia in a legal dispute, so they packed up their belongings and started to make their way to California to start a new life. The original mini-series told the story of their journey from Virginia to Wyoming. When the story continued as a series, the family was on the way from Wyoming to California.
- Aired on CBS from March 29, 1979 to March 15, 1980.
- Time Slot: 60 minutes, Mar.79-Apr. 1979 8:00-9:00, Jan.1980-Mar.1980, 8:00-9:00
- Series starred:Robert Preston as Hadley Chisolm, Rosemary Harris as Minverva Chisholm, Ben Murphy as Will Chisholm, Brett Cullen as Gideon Chisholm, Delta Burke as Bonnie Sue Chisolm, Susan Swift as Mercy Hopewell, James Van Patten as Bo Chisolm, Reid Smith as Lester Hackett
- Susan Swift, 15 years old at the time, originally played Annabel Chisolm in the mini series but her character died, so she was brought back as Mercy Hopewell in the series.
Set during the 1870's, it is the story of seven young boys, aged 9 to 17, and their trails and tribulations growing up as they worked on a ranch owned by widow Annie Andersen.
- Aired on ABC from February 6, 1974 to August 14, 1974.
- Time Slot: 30 minutes Wednesday 8:00-8:30
- Starred Moses Gun as Jebediah Nightlinger, Diana Douglas as Mrs. Annie Andersen, Jim Davis as U.S. Marshal Bill Winter, A Martinez as Cimarron, Robert Carradine as Slim, Sean Kelly as Jimmy, Kerry MacLane as Homer, Clint Howard as Steve, Mitch Brown as Hardy and Clay O'Brien as Weedy.
- The series was based on the book by William Dale Jennings which had been made into a film starring John Wayne.
- While the book and the movie were rather violent in some scenes, this was toned down considerably for television.
- A Martinez, Robert Carradine, Sean Kelly and Clay O'Brien also appeared in the film.
- In real life, the boys ranged in ages between 12 to 25.
- Most of the filming was done on a 32,000-acre Glenmore Ranch near Thousand Oaks, CA.
- Notable Guest Stars: John Carradine, DeForest Kelley
Jeanette Nolan as Dirty Sally
Dirty Sally was a hard living and cantankerous old gal who made her living as a traveling junk collector. She and her companion, Cyrus Pike, an outlaw she had nursed back to health, were heading for the gold fields of California. Pike was anxious to get to there, but Sally always managed to find someone who needed help in some way which slowed down their progress.
- Aired on CBS from January 11, 1974 to July 19, 1974.
- Time Slot: 30 minutes, Friday 8:00-8:30.
- Starred Jeanette Nolan as Sally Fergus and Dack Rambo as Cyrus Pike.
- Sally's first appearance was on Gunsmoke.
- Notable Guest Stars: Jackie Coogan, Nicholas Hammond, Denver Pyle, Ken Swafford, Vincent Van Patten, Mills Watson
Set in 1901, viewers were introduced to Hec Ramsey, a retired gunfighter who had become fascinated with the new science of criminology and spent his time learning all he could about it. He carried with him, on his travels, a trunk full of crime fighting equipment such as finger printing set, scales, magnifying glass and other assorted odds and ends. This equipment came in handy when he got the job of deputy sheriff in New Prospect, Oklahoma, where he discovered that his boss, Sheriff Stamp, was young and inexperienced and going to need all the help he could get. At first, Stamp wasn't too impressed with his new deputy, fearing his history as a gunslinger would be more hindrance than help, but the two managed to find a peaceful middle ground.
- Aired on NBC from October 8, 1972 to August 25, 1974.
- Time Slot: 90 minutes. 8:30 to 10:00 Sunday
- Starred Richard Boone as Hec Ramsey, Richard Lenz as Sheriff Oliver B. Stamp, Harry Morgan as Doc Amos Coogan and Dennis Rucker as Arne Tornquist.
- This show ran under the umbrella of NBC Sunday Mystery Movie, it rotated its time slot with three other shows; Columbo, McCloud, and McMillian and Wife.
- One of the first television Westerns (if not the only) that blended old West adventure (gunfights, cowboys, etc) with the emerging science of criminology.
- Did well in the ratings, but a dispute between star, Boone, and the production company caused the show to be cancelled.
- Notable Guest Stars: Claude Akins, Jackie Cooper, Bruce Davison, Angie Dickinson, Steve Forrest, Robert Foxworth, Cliff Potts, Kurt Russell, Stella Stevens, Don Stroud, Dick Van Patten, Stuart Whitman, Marie Windsor
How the West Was Won
The story of the Macahan family as they travel from the Dakota Territory westward.
- Aired on ABC from February 12, 1978 to April 23, 1979.
- Time Slot: 60 minutes. Feb 1978-August 1978 Sunday 8:00-9:00, January 1979- April 1979 9:00-11:00 Monday
- Starred James Arness as Zeb Macahan, Fionnula Flanagan as Aunt Molly Culhane, Bruce Boxleitner as Luke Macahan, Kathryn Holcomb as Laura Macahan, William Kirby Cullen as Josh Macahan and Vickie Schreck as Jessie Macahan.
- First started out life as a 1976 television movie The Macahans which proved popular enough to have the sequel, How the West Was Won, produced in 1977. In 1978, the series offered up 20 more hours of the adventures of the Machan family. In 1979, 11 new two hour episodes rounded out the series.
- Loosely based on the 1963 movie of the same name directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.
- Filmed on locations in Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Southern California.
- Notable Guest Stars: James Best, Jeff East, Iron Eyes Cody, Christopher Lee, Tim Matheson, Ricardo Montalban, Denver Pyle, Vincent Van Patten,
Set in China during the mid 1880's, Kung Fu told the story of Kwai Chang Caine an orphan who had been raised by the monks of the the Shaolin Temple. They taught him the way of internal harmony and non violence and also taught him the art of kung fu. When Caine killed a member of the Chinese royal family he fled China only to end up in the American West where he began his search for his long lost brother. Caine was pursued by Chinese imperial agents as well as US bounty hunters so he led a nomadic lifestyle.
- Aired on ABC from October 14, 1972 to June 28, 1975.
- Time Slot: 60 minutes. Oct 1972-Nov 1972 Saturday 8:00-9:00; Jan 1973-Aug 1974, Thursday 9:00-10:00; Sep 1974-Oct 1974, Saturday 9:00-10:00; Nov 1974-Jan 1975 Friday 8:00-9:00; Jan 1975-Jun 1975, Saturday 8:00-9:00
- Starred: David Carradine as Kwai Change Caine, Keye Luke as Master Po, Philip Ahn as Master Kan, Radames Pera as Caine as a youth and Season Hubley as Margit McLean
- Caine was a loner, but during the final season his American cousin, Margit would make occasional appearances.
- Notable Guest Stars: Leslie Nielsen, John Carradine, Denver Pyle, Jodie Foster, Bo Svenson, Andrew Prine, William Shatner, John Saxon, Victor French
Set in Wyoming in the 1880's, it was the story of two brothers, Morgan and Quentin, who had been separated at an early age. Morgan had been raised by the Cheyenne, and Quentin by his aunt and had attended medical school. They come together to search for their long lost sister, Patricia, who was still being held by the Cheyenne.
- Aired on NBC from September 22, 1976 to December 29, 1976.
- Time Slot: 60 minutes, Wednesday 10:00-11:00
- Starred Kurt Russell as Morgan Boudine and Tim Matheson as Quentin Boudine.
- This was the only Western series offered on the 1976-77 TV season and it was scheduled opposite ABC's popular Charlie's Angels and The Blue Knight on CBS.
- Notable Guest Stars: Amanda Blake, Dennis Cole, Gary Collins, Jim Davis, Susan Dey, Erik Estrada, Howard Keel, Monte Markham, Pamela Sue Martin, Pernel Roberts, Andrew Stevens, Mitch Vogel, Mills Watson, Keenan Wynn
The Oregon Trail
Set in the year 1842, viewers were introduced to widower Evan Thorpe who decided to pack up his belongings and his family and leave behind life in their native Illinois in search of a better life in the Oregon Territory. He joined a wagon train heading west and soon was elected the captain. As the wagon moved west all sorts of adversities befell them; bad weather, rough terrain, unfriendly Indians, and more.
- Aired on NBC from September 1977 to October 26, 1977.
- Time Slot: 60 minutes. 9:00-10:00 Wednesday
- Starred Rod Taylor as Evan Thorpe, Darleen Carr as Margaret Devlin, Charles Napier as Luther Spraque, Andrew Stevens as Andrew Thorpe, Tony Becker as William Thorpe and Gina Marie Smika as Rachel Thorpe.
- The series lasted on six episodes before being cancelled. Was scheduled against ABC's Charlie's Angles, and the CBS Wednesday Night Movie.
- Notable Guest Stars: Claude Akins, Donna Mills, Mariette Hartley, Stella Stevens, Andrew Prine, Kim Hunter, William Shatner, Robert Fuller.
CBS wanted to improve their ratings and figured that a Western related to an old fan favorite from the 50's and 60's that starred James Garner (as Bret Maverick) just might be the ticket.
Their take was to introduce viewers to The Young Maverick, in the form of Ben (son of Bret's first cousin, Beau) who was Harvard educated, a ladies man, part-time con man who liked to gamble and had an aversion to violence, believing that cowardice was the best way to keep ones self alive and well. Ben's romantic interest and female counterpart of sorts, was Nell McGarrahan who had hopes of marrying him one day.
- Aired on CBS from November 28, 1979 to January 16, 1980
- Time Slot: 60 minutes, Wednesdays 8:00-9:00
- Starred: Charles Frank as Ben Maverick, Susan Blanchard as Nell McGarrahan, John Dehner as Marshal Edge Troy.
- Frank and Blanchard were husband and wife in real life, and had even played a married couple on the daytime soap All My Children.
- Cancelled after airing of six episodes aired. Eight episodes had been filmed.
- Available on DVD.
- Notable Guest Stars: Morgan Fairchild, Morgan Woodward, Audrey Landers, John Hillerman, James Woods, James Garner
Did I miss a few series that would fit into this category? Possibly shows like The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, or The New Land maybe even Little House on the Prairie? I always considered those shows more of adventure or drama in their appeal, but of course, it all depends on your point of view.
Also, something to take notice of, I didn't include Westerns that made their first appearance in the 60s (or sooner) and finished their run in the 70's, (examples: Bonanza, Gunsmoke and High Chaparral).
Anyway, thanks for the visit. If you wish to make a comment, ask a question (I will answer to the best of my ability) share a memory or two, please feel free to do so in the guestbook below. Please note that I moderate comments in an effort to control spam, keep comments on topic and keep a reader friendly page. Thanks for understanding.
Also, of note: I used various references for this article including, but not limited to:
- Brooks, Tim, and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present. 14th ed., Ballantine Books, 2007.
- MacNeil, Alex. Total Television. 4th ed., Penguin Books, 1996.
- Numerous articles at Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2018, www.wikipedia.org/.
- Walz, Steve. “Charles Is Frank About Young Maverick.” The Times-News, 22 Dec. 1979, p. 12.
© 2018 Glory Miller