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Classic Western Television Hits: 7 TV Shows That Had the Highest Ratings

By    |   Wednesday, 17 Feb 2016 09:30 PM

Classic television would never have been the same without Westerns. The genre dominated TV sets in American households throughout the 1950s, '60s, and '70s.

Classic TV Westerns became the enduring image of America and captured the imagination of people around the world as well.

While every Western television show had its fans, some of these shows entertained so many people that ratings soared as TV found its wasy into more and more homes.

Here are seven classic TV Westerns that pulled in the highest ratings:

1. "Gunsmoke"

Of all the Westerns from the classic TV era, "Gunsmoke" was the grandaddy of them all, lasting 20 seasons between 1955 and 1975. The show took viewers to the frontier town of Dodge City and watched Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) defend it from all manner of scofflaw.

According to ClassicTVHits.com, "Gunsmoke" was the No. 1 show on television from 1957 to 1960. The show's ratings peaked in 1959 when more than 18 million people tuned into CBS to watch Marshal Matt Dillon.

2. "Bonanza"

Every once in a while there is a show that never loses its charisma, no matter how the times change. “Bonanza” is one. Airing from 1959 to 1973, this classic TV Western invites viewers into the lives of Ben Cartwright and his sons as they live life on the Ponderosa.

Even today these shows delight young and old alike.

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The second longest-running Western on classic TV, "Bonanza" surpassed "Gunsmoke" in the mid-'60s, and became the top show from 1964 to 1966. NBC saw its audience for "Bonanza" swell to more than 19 million viewers in 1964, but with the aid of an estimated 7 million more households with TVs in America than existed in 1959.

3. "Wagon Train"

This show followed westward pioneers as they set out for California. As the journey and the series progressed, the show experienced some lead changes and guest appearances by nearly all of Hollywood made a guest appearance.

Lasting eight seasons, "Wagon Train" was barely beaten out in the ratings only by "Gunsmoke" for a number of years, but "Wagon Train" claimed the top spot in 1961 with more than 15 million people watching the NBC program.

4. "Rawhide"

“Rawhide” offered a peek into the lives of cattle driving. Starring Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood as cattle drivers, viewers got to experience the adventure and dangers along the way. Although, Eric Fleming starred in the show, Clint Eastwood’s later fame has given this classic show popularity with modern viewers.

"Rawhide" broke in to the top 10 ratings grabbers only once, in 1960. Ranking at No. 6, this Western nearly gathered 13 million viewers.

5. "Little House on the Prairie"

Offering less gun-wheeling action and more classic TV family drama, “Little House on the Prairie” was iconic to many. This spin on a classic Western theme gave insight into the lives of the Ingalls and other pioneer families during those times, and the struggles they faced. Don’t be fooled by the lack of violence, this classic show offered entertaining ups and downs.

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"Little House on the Prairie" was the only Western show on this list that transitioned into the 1980s, but its ratings peaked at the dawn of the new decade, attracting more than 17 million viewers for NBC, but still only rising to the 10th most watched show that year.

6. "The Rifleman"

“The Rifleman” (Chuck Connors) made boys and men alike pine for their very own modified Winchester rifle. Lucas McCain was the real deal hero dads that boys looked up to, and other men admired.

Although there were other Western genre shows airing during the same years, “The Rifleman” still attracted a slew of viewers.

"The Rifleman"'s debut season was its best season, rocketing to the fourth most watched TV show in 1957, trailing three other Westerns: "Gunsmoke," "Wagon Train," and "Have Gun, Will Travel." The Chuck Conners' hit drew more that 14 million people to ABC that year.

7. "Maverick"

The classic TV Western, “Maverick,” has been a popular choice of Western lovers for generations.

Bret and Bart Maverick know how to make a buck or two. While they prefer a hand of poker to a hard day’s work, they never lack the funds to get around, and never know how to stay out of trouble. While this means some bad times for this duo, it means heaps of action for the viewer.

"Maverick" lasted five seasons from 1957 to 1962 but only managed beginner's luck in the ratings, peaking in 1958 with an unlucky 13 million viewers for ABC, which placed it at No. 6 in the TV ratings.

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Classic television would never have been the same without Westerns. The genre dominated TV sets in American households throughout the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. Here are seven classic TV Westerns that pulled in the highest ratings during that period.
classic westerns, tv, ratings
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2016-30-17
Wednesday, 17 Feb 2016 09:30 PM
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