Starting Saturday, The Tall Man, Whispering Smith, and Laredo are back on the small screen.
For classic western fans, getTV’s “Saturday Showdown” lineup is already appointment television. But as of high noon ET on October 3, viewers will have three more reasons to let the weekend chores wait until Sunday.
The network’s new western programming block now saddles up with The Tall Man (1960 – 62), followed by Whispering Smith (1961) and back-to-back episodes of Laredo (1965 – 67).
“This has always been one of our most popular programming days,” says Jeff Meier, senior vice president of programming at getTV. “We wanted to dig into some more classic shows that people may not have heard of, or that they haven’t thought about in a long time.”
The Tall Man offers a unique variation on the saga of Billy the Kid and Sheriff Pat Garrett. Clu Galager stars as legendary outlaw William Bonney, opposite Barry Sullivan as Garrett. They’re friends here, though Billy is still a troublemaker with a quick trigger, and Garrett is the upright and honest defender of justice earning praise as the “tall man” of the title).
One of the unique elements that distinguish The Tall Man from other westerns of its era is its distinctive, jazzy score by Juan García Esquivel. “We thought it was a strong show that would still resonate with fans today, because they know these characters,” Meier says.
Whispering Smith was a troubled production with a back story nearly as interesting as the adventures it presented. Based on a 1948 film starring Alan Ladd, the show was western movie star Audie Murphy’s only attempt at a television series.
Set in the 1870s and described as “Dragnet on horseback,” the program adapted actual case files from the Denver Police Department for its stories. Murphy played soft-spoken police detective Tom “Whispering” Smith, who used ahead-of-their-time forensics methods to protect the railroad from robberies and other criminal activities.
Whispering Smith had four different producers in its one and only season, and suffered another production setback when costar Guy Mitchell broke his shoulder after falling off a horse. Another series regular committed suicide during production, and in 1961 the U.S. Senate Juvenile Delinquency subcommittee described the show as “excessively violent” and “a libel on Denver.” But despite the turmoil, Murphy is always a captivating presence, especially in a western. That alone makes Whispering Smith one of western TV’s most fascinating failures.
Laredo fared better, and remains a favorite among many western fans. “It was engaging to me because not many shows from the latter part of the westerns boom were in color. The series really looks great, and like Maverick, it has a sense of humor,” Meier says. Neville Brand, Peter Brown, William Smith, and Philip Carey starred as members of the rowdy Texas Rangers, Company B.
In addition to the three new series, getTV’s Saturday Showdown lineup also includes A Man Called Shenandoah, Hondo, and the James Garner cult favorite Nichols, followed by a marathon of classic western films.