5 Thing ThursdayMy friend Susan and I were talking about Westerns yesterday at work. I have no idea how we got on the subject, but it struck me that the Western as a genre has nearly died out. If your local bookstore even has a Western section chances are it’s two shelves stuck under the last section of the Romance area. Gone are the heady days of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour.

A quick glance through the #FridayFlash archives only turned up ten westerns in the past year. John Wiswell posted one, ‘A Still Moment‘, just this past week. Here are all ten in handy list form:

If you missed them earlier you can go read them now.

Susan and I decided that the Western will eventually make a comeback. Things do go in cycles after all. When they do come back we think they will be different – more sophisticated, with more complex story lines and nuanced characters. Still I’ll miss the old style western, formulaic as they may have been. They were born of a simpler time when things were seen, like cowboy hats, in black and white — often on black and white TVs.

My Top 5 TV Westerns

  • The Rebel The outcast character of Johnny Yuma really appealed to me.
  • Have Gun — Will Travel I can still sing you the theme song, Paladin, not that you’d want me to.
  • Maverick Gotta love a reluctant hero, particularly when he’s dressed in black.
  • The Big Valley Because I had the hots for Audra.
  • Kung Fu My all time favorite, so different at the time, though by the third season it was getting long in the tooth.

You may have noticed the two most famous westerns, ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘Bonanza,’ are not on my list. Undoubtedly this is a reflection of my rebellious youth — for these were my dad’s two favorite shows. Likewise some shows (The Virginian, and Rawhide immediately come to mind) are not on this list because they were my sister’s favorites, she being enamored of certain  male stars. I watched all four of these, and have to admit I liked them well enough, though I would never have admitted it at the time.

What were your favorite Westerns, on TV, in books, or at the movies? Do you think the genre will make a comeback?
~jon

  12 Responses to “5 Thing Thursday: Westerns”

  1. I think westerns have been reborn lately in the guise of sci/fi. Both Star Trek and Star Wars were fashioned in the guise of westerns in space.

    Have you ever watched Firefly? It’s an awesome blend of old western and high-tech, really genius storytelling of 500 years in our future and the fringe planets have gone back to six-shooters and cattle rustling.

  2. As a kid i absolutely adored the show Bonanza. I have no idea why – it doesn’t seem like it would hold much appeal for a young child, but there you have it. Beyond that, i can’t think of many westerns that have stuck with me, but it’s a fun genre. All it would take is one novelist to have a success with a new western and the next wave will come ;-)

    • There is a lot of truth to that — a run away blockbuster would revive the genre at least a little bit. I kind of remember a brief flutter of activity after Lonesome Dove came out.
      ~jon

  3. F Troop! How could you not include F Troop?

  4. The Western genre has been in a state of perpetually dying out for my entire lifetime. There was a time when TV was full of Westerns, but now our media is more mixed. International settings, space, Fantasy, SciFi and superheroes broadened the base of what could take us to new places in film and TV. On the book front, I think we still get a big western every now and then. It’s not like we were ever routinely getting Lonesome Doves – those are still special and rare. Nowadays we might get 3-10 to Yuma and Tru Grit a few years apart. I think No Country For Old Men, especially the film version is a Western with fewer cowboy hats. Firefly is actually a third generation Western, ripping off anime like Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star, which was ripping off Westerns, which were ripping off Asian stories. The interplay there has been very interesting.

    Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove remains the best Western I’ve ever read.

    I’m happy to have donated two of the ten Westerns, Jon. I try to mix up my #fridayflash offerings. Sorely tempted to do another. Next week’s is set in a desert, though it’s far from cowboys and Indians.

    • In addition, one of the top selling videogames of this year is Red Dead Redemption, a Western as envisioned by the folks who made Grand Theft Auto. The Coens are bringing us Tru Grit in a couple months. The Cowboys Vs. Aliens mash-up is hitting theatres shortly. I really think we won’t see a resurgence of Westerns like we do with zombies, but rather will just get them in a steady drip. The best sign is that premiere content creators, in books, film and videogames, are interested and will try. When they try, others will imitate and it’ll perpetuate.

      • I’m sure the genre will never die out completely. I do think it may evolve and be recast and cross genres with Historical Fiction, Mystery, and even Romance.

        In many ways all this genre/subgenre categorization is arbitrary. Is O Pioneers!a Western? Giants In the Earth? These Is My Words? None of them are classified as Westerns, yet all are set in the west and visit many of the same themes as the classic Western.
        ~jon

  5. I recently made a special effort to find and borrow the Firefly series. I enjoyed it at least as much the second time around. Genius story telling indeed! And best western series I’ve seen in ages.

    3-10 to Yuma also gets a big thumbs up from me, despite (or because?) it’s a real throwback to the best western films of the 40′s and 50′s.

    • I will have to try to see Firefly.

      As far as films goes, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) has a special place in my heart. It was one of the first non-Disney drive-in movies my folks took me to see. Again, I could sing you a good bit of the theme song, but again, you wouldn’t want me to. ;)
      ~jon

  6. One of my favorites was The Rifleman, with Chuck Connors. And I loved The Little House on the Prairie, though I think it was set in the midwest, so it might not count as a western.

    There is something appealing about the genre that makes me think westerns could become popular again if they are done well. I’d watch them.

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