Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater, Law Of The Plainsman and The Rifleman

Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater (1956-1962)
Law Of The Plainsman (1959-1960,1962)
The Rifleman (1958-1963)
Type: Spin Offs
Group: 22

   Believe it or not all you generation x-ers but way back when, way back in the 1950's and 1960's the biggest staple of network TV wasn't sci-fi shows, it wasn't cop shows, it was westerns. Of course now westerns are about nonexistent.

   One of the biggest writers of western novels for the longest time was Zane Grey. That being the case, the books of Zane Grey were an obvious source for material. Thus Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater. Celebrity Dick Powell served as a sort of western Rod Serling hosting the show which featured a new cowboy adventure each week. He would also sometimes star in the episodes. The show at first only did Zane Grey stories but eventually did do other stories as well. I mean, come on. It was on six seasons and that amount of time will burn through a lot of story material.

   At the end of the 1957-1958 season an episode aired about a widower with a young son and a way with a rifle. His name was Lucas McCain. The story had the McCains coming to the town of North Fork, New Mexico and Lucas entering a turkey shoot competition to win enough money to buy a local ranch so that he and his son could settle down.

   People must have liked the McCains because the next fall they had in deed settled in to a new home on the ABC schedule (for the record, Zane Grey aired on CBS). The new series was called The Rifleman. Tough guy and retired ball player Chuck Connors starred as Lucas McCain and Johnny Crawford played his young son. Mix equal parts western actioner and father/son drama, throw in a tricked out customized rifle and you've got yourself a western, and a hit western at that.

   One good spin off deserving another, spin off The Rifleman spawned a spin off of its own called Law Of The Plainsman. The show starred Michael Ansara as U.S. Marshal Sam Buckhart. Michael Ansara is known today to sci-fi fans for his guest spots on Star Trek, Babylon 5 and maybe most notably as Commander Kane on the late 1970's version of Buck Rogers. Well back then Michael Ansara wasn't playing some alien, he was playing an American Indian turned U.S. lawman.

   He first appeared in The Rifleman first season episode called The Indian. In it Buckhart shows up in North Fork looking for Indians believed involved in the heinous killing of a lawman and his family only to find himself a victim of racism due to his own Indian heritage. He returned in The Raid in which Mark McCain is captured by Apaches. With Lucas McCain wounded in the attack where his sons was taken, it was up to Buckhart to play the hero and save Mark.

   The fact that Buckhart was moved to a central heroic role in this second appearance was probably because they were testing the character out as a leading character. Apparently he was in fact being tried out because just as the previous summer The Rifleman had went from guest star to the star of his own show so now Sam Buckhart went off to star in Law Of The Plainsman. And also like The Rifleman the spin off actually spun off onto a different network. Again, The Rifleman aired on ABC while Law Of The Plainsman aired on NBC. This of course means this group of shows managed to cover all three of the major networks. Law Of The Plainsman aired for a single season before being canceled. A couple of years later it actually did bop back over from NBC to ABC when in 1962 ABC put reruns of the show on its summer schedule. But they were just repeats. Its not like ABC made some attempt to revive the series or anything. By 1963 all three shows were off the air as the age of the TV western slowly pulled to a close.

Other The Rifleman Crossover Links
The Rifleman and Bat Masterson
The Rifleman and Cheyenne
The Rifleman and Have Gun Will Travel
The Rifleman and Kung Fu
The Rifleman and The Life And Legend Of Wyatt Earp
The Rifleman and Maverick

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