In the '60s, Chuck Connors took a shot at ''safe'' TV programs

The Western hero took a shot at these "safe" programs, and the sharpshooter didn't miss.

In the world of situational comedies, family shows, cartoons and sitcoms, The Rifleman series wasn't afraid to stand out. Perhaps that's why the Western lasted for five seasons on-air.

Series like Leave It to Beaver (1957), Dennis the Menace (1959) and Father Knows Best (1954) all ruled the ratings around the time The Rifleman was saddling up on ABC.

While most of the country was tuning in to watch these kind of programs on television, The Rifleman's leading man, Chuck Connors, was dishing out reasons why you shouldn't.

Connors played the role of Lucas McCain, a widowed rancher and sharpshooter who vowed to keep his son and his town safe from harm. Not only was he one of the best heroes in the Old West, but in real life, Connors was protecting his series from being cancelled.

In the early '60s, television was vastly changing. Both producers and viewers alike were calling for less violence on TV. 

Many people were afraid that their old shows based in guns and battles would disappear from TV screens. And many did. 

But not Connors.

"Not on your life," Connors said in a 1961 interview with The Birmingham News. "Here we are in a push-button world. We fight, love and breathe by pushing a button. What does the Western do? It reminds us that men used to have guts, women were steadfast and people did things for themselves."

"We've said some things (on Westerns) about human beings, things that need saying," Connors continued. "People on Westerns work out their own destiny. No psychiatrists, no tranquilizers, no gadgets - just their own hands. Don't you think that needs saying?"

According to the interview, Connors wanted to help represent a voice that mattered. Of course, little Theodore Cleaver's voice mattered on Leave It to Beaver, but Connors said many shows played it too safe.

"Case in point: Situation comedies where kids have got a golden opportunity to learn that mom's a clever schemer and dad's a hopeless goof. If that's safe, well I'll take something dangerous instead," Connors said. 

Even though Connors probably had a million reasons why Westerns were the superior genre of television, he probably had many more reasons why The Rifleman should have stayed at the top.

He said the blood and battles that everyone was so afraid of was never allowed to take precedence over the father-son relationship of his character and Mark McCain, played by Johnny Crawford.

"It's a small thing but on The Rifleman we've built an atmosphere of love and respect between father and son," Connors said. "In the West, by and large, there was more courtesy and respect than today, another reason we need the Western today."

It was a simple program where Connors spent his days fighting to defend his friends. But the defenses didn't stop when the cameras quit rolling. Connors was always at war with what he believed was good for television, and what the public thought. 

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7 Comments

wolfman69 1 month ago
One of the highlights of my weekend is riding into Northfolk for an hour every Saturday afternoon.
Runeshaper 1 month ago
Connors makes some valid points here.
GOOSEYGOOSE9 1 month ago
My mom
And dad did like Chuck connors then.my mom
And I didn’t like Michael landon.
Lois Olsen didn’t like Michael landon.Lin did not like Michael
Landon.I like Robert urich better than Michael landon.
KawiVulc 1 month ago
Push button world... the man had not seen anything yet. He's even more right today.
McGillahooala KawiVulc 1 month ago
I wonder if he would have believed that just a few decades after his death, American society would be on the verge of collapse. It sounds like he was noticing the little cracks back then and did his part to prevent it from happening.
Oh yes because American society was so much better when we were lynching black men from lamp posts abd when it was legal for men to rape their wives, When Jim Crow laws kept minorities from voting and women couldnt own property in theircown name. If America is on the verge of collapse its because too many people want to go back to those days.
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