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Broadcast Firsts

Western Series - The first western television star was portrayed by "B" western movie star William Boyd (1915-72) in his role of Hopalong Cassidy. In 1949, when fifty-four of the theatrical released "Hopalong Cassidy" films became eligible for television, the NBC network paid William Boyd (he owned the film rights), a quarter of a million dollars for the weekly presentation rights. His films were then reedited for nationwide television distribution. These theatrical films featured "Hoppy" with sidekicks Gabby Hayes or Andy Clyde.

Eventually, William Boyd filmed a new set of 30-minute western adventures HOPALONG CASSIDY/NBC/1949 costarring Edgar Buchanan as his sidekick. His reedited theatrical films which had been filmed in the 1930s and early 1940s were seen on local New York stations as early as 1945.

Other western cowboy stars to make it big in the 1950s were Gene Autry who starred in his own CBS western series THE GENE AUTRY SHOW/1950-56 and Roy Rogers "The King of the Cowboys" who starred with Dale Evans in THE ROY ROGERS SHOW/NBC/1951-57.

In 1955, sixty-seven of Roger's Republic feature films and fifty-six of Gene Autry's Republic films were syndicated in 60-minute form by MCA-TV Film Syndication. (At the time, theatrical films had to be seven years old before television rights could be purchased).

The first western series filmed especially for television was THE LONE RANGER/ABC/1949-57 starring Clayton Moore as "the masked rider of the plains" and Jay Silverheels as Tonto, "his faithful Indian companion." Previously all westerns seen on TV were reedited/repackaged western feature films or serials (seen originally in movie theaters) starring the likes of Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Tom Mix, etc..

The first western series to be "filmed" in color were the 176 episodes of THE CISCO KID syndicated from 1950-56 and starring Duncan Renaldo as O. Henry's Hispanic "Robin Hood of the Old West" and Leo Carrillo as his sidekick, Pancho. Like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Cisco and Pancho roamed the Southwest of the 1800's protecting the innocent from ruthless desperadoes.

The first and only "live" televised western series was ACTION IN THE AFTERNOON broadcast on weekday afternoons from the WCAU station in Philadelphia on the CBS network from 2/2/53 to 1/29/54. The western adventure series was set in the Montana town of Huberie with Jack Valentine as a singing, guitar playing cowboy.

The first western series to be televised in "color" was BONANZA with Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon as the members of the Cartwright Family whose ranch, the Ponderosa, was located near Lake Tahoe in Nevada during the late 1800's. The series premiered September 12, 1959 on the NBC Network and ran until January 16, 1973. With the exception of GUNSMOKE/CBS/1955-75 which starred James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon, BONANZA was the second longest running western in television history.

The first ninety-minute western series was THE VIRGINIAN televised on the NBC network from September 19, 1962 to September 8, 1971 starring James Drury as the Virginian, a mysterious man with no past who became foreman for the Shiloh Ranch in the Wyoming Territory of the 1880s.

The CBS network competed with the ninety-minute format by introducing the western series CIMARRON STRIP/CBS/1967-71 which starred Stuart Whitman as US Marshal Jim Crown who patrolled the Kansas territory of the late 19th century.

The first reunion of all the popular western cowboys occurred on the history making special When the West Was Fun: A Western Reunion in June of 1979. Set in a western saloon, the special reunited some of the best remembered TV cowboys including The Lone Ranger (Clayton Moore), Bart Maverick (Jack Kelly), The Rifleman (Chuck Connors), The Virginian (James Drury), Buffalo Bill, Jr. (Dick Jones), The Lawman (John Russell), The Range Rider (Jock Mahoney), and Neville Brand, Slim Pickens, Bill Williams, Doug McClure among others.

The Buick sponsored special was hosted by Glenn Ford who dedicated the 60-minute program to John Wayne saying "This one's for you, Duke." John Wayne was hospitalized at the time.

A similar reunion occurred in the fall of 1991 with the made-for-TV movie The Gambler IV: The Luck of the Draw starring Kenny Rogers in his continuing adventures as a frontier gambler. The program featured the cameo appearances of many of the classic western TV stars among them Chuck Connors as The Rifleman, Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Hugh O'Brien as Wyatt Earp, and David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine.

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