Why No Westerns?

Since Fargo’s season finale, there isn’t a single prime-time TV series I watch. But I love the Encore Western channel, showing stuff like Cheyenne and Maverick from the 50’s.

Why aren’t they making westerns today? In the 50’s, they were all over the dial. They seem like a natural for today’s gun-happy society, because they prove that guns solve everything. On The Rifleman, a guy who lived on a farm ten miles from a town of about 100 people ended up killing two or three people a week, while teaching his son how to be a man.

That probably makes it sound like this post is really a knock on guns, but it isn’t. I really enjoy those shows, even though I disagree with the philosophy — just as* The Ten Commandments* is one of my favorite movies, although I’m somewhere between agnostic and atheist.

It’s clear that TV is starved for ideas, because there are only two or three types of show – police procedurals, sitcoms about loveable misfits, and superhero stuff. So why not add Westerns to the mix? When a decent western movie is made, like Unforgiven or Silverado, it does OK at the box office, so it’s not like nobody wants to see them.

Is it?

The “Rural purge” probably has something to do with it.

TV westerns followed decades of movie westerns. The sets were already there, along with costumes, horses and handlers, stunt men, props, and audiences that liked to watch westerns. All those elements are missing now and starting up again is expensive.

Deadwood was excellent, but got cancelled after three seasons. I assume that the people in charge of TV see that as a reason to not make any more western themed TV shows right now.

Longmire is a modern-day western series. The latest season was released by Netflix, and I don’t know if there will be any more.

“Hell on Wheels” is a Western. It’s about the building of the transcontinental railroad.

“The Pinkertons” is a Western. It’s about the Pinkerton detective agency in a Western town.

Now I’m not personally recommending those shows. But they are current Westerns.

Logistics are part of it. It’s hard to find locations that don’t have hints of the modern world. This wasn’t as much of an issue in the 50s, since shows were done on backlogs and sound stages, but most of those are gone. You m have to go to out of the way locations to shoot.

Films like 3:10 to Yuma and True Grit got pretty popular (although both remakes). The short is that trends come and go. Right now superhero movies are popular, but that doesn’t mean that this will last. Maybe they’re on their way back although I don’t see indications that it’s happening. Tarantino seems to be on a Western kick right now.

YMMV, I did not like Unforgiven but I like other westerns.

Deadwood was not cancelled. David Milch ditched it to do something else…that failed.

I’m counting Justified as a western, personally. Not because of the rural setting and the cowboy hats- it follows lots of old Western tropes, like season-long build ups to a shootout.

I think there’s a reason while all contemporary westerns are set in times and places other than the Old West - most people today don’t think of the period as one of the prouder ones in American history, and furthermore, they don’t think it was that interesting or appealing; a drab, ugly time filled with smelly, racist people. I think the bigger question is why westerns were all that popular in the first place.

Also, it’s a mythology based on mostly inaccurate, sensationalized stories. There’s a decent cracked.com sketch about it.


I don’t know, maybe I’m being too narrow, but IMO it takes more than a western setting to make a western. I like the shootouts. I’ve read enough to know that the good guy letting the bad guy draw first is complete fiction (not to mention suicide), but what can I say, I enjoy fiction.

So, you’ve seen both those shows and don’t think they’re Westerns? You know, despite the guns and the shootings and the Indians, etc they have.

Or you haven’t seen both those shows and have apparently judged them as not Westerns based on?

Zombies are the new ‘outsiders’ / injuns.

Back then, heroes were a good guy with a gun. Today it’s a good guy (or gal) with a badge.

Back then, kids played cowboys and Indians. Today they play Halo and Grand Theft Auto.

The nostalgia for a simpler time where rugged individuals pulled themselves up by their bootstraps has changed to nostalgia for law, order, science and space exploration. I suppose changing tastes and urbanization have provided for the departure from westerns as well. That, and maybe the western “hero” actors have either died or past their prime (John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, etc.).

Quite true that the average audience would be repulsed if they were shown a series that accurately depicted what life was like in the Old West.

Americans like to think Little House on the Prairie and Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman showed the way it was. They’re in love with a myth and know nothing of the reality.

#73 Darth was right all along.

Why so many Westerns?

Actually, I think that unlike in the past, the public knows* too much *of the reality to accept the myth. That’s one reason nobody’s interested any more.

That is correct. People want fact based fantasy entertainment like Star Wars.