Ronald Reagan Plays Major Will Sinclair in "Zane Grey Theater (The Westerners)" - Season 5, Episode 15: The Long Shadow

Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater, sometimes simply called Zane Grey Theater, is a Western anthology series which ran on CBS from 1956-1961.

Six spinoff series

Zane Grey Theater was ground-breaking in that six episodes were developed into subsequent series: (1) Trackdown (from "Badge of Honor") starring Robert Culp as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman, (2) Johnny Ringo (from "Man Alone"), starring Don Durant, both on CBS, (3) The Rifleman (from "The Sharpshooter") with Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain, and (4) Stagecoach West starring Wayne Rogers and Robert Bray[episode needed], both on ABC, and (5) The Westerner (from "Trouble at Tres Cruces"), starring Brian Keith as Dave Blassingame, and (6) Black Saddle (from "Threat of Violence" with Chris Alcaide instead of series star Peter Breck as Clay Culhane), both on NBC. In addition, Wanted: Dead or Alive, with Steve McQueen playing the bounty hunter Josh Randall, was a CBS spinoff of Trackdown, and Law of the Plainsman, starring Michael Ansara as a Harvard-educated, Native American U.S. Marshal was an NBC spin-off of The Rifleman.

Production notes

Zane Grey Theater was created by Luke Short and Charles A. Wallace. The series was originally based on the short stories and novels of Western author Zane Grey, but as the episodes continued, new material was included. Aaron Spelling, who later became a legend in Hollywood, wrote twenty Zane Grey episodes. The program opened with a prelude of the episode followed by the introduction, the firing of a gun, with the proclamation: "From out of the West, Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater." Much of the musical score was handled by Four Star's Herschel Burke Gilbert.

Powell appeared as various characters in 15 of the 149 episodes of the program and hosted the entire run. Zane Grey, a half-hour program, debuted at 8:30 Eastern on Friday, October 5, 1956, and ran until the end of the 1960-1961 season, when Powell switched to NBC for a new hour-long anthology of drama and comedy called The Dick Powell Show, which continued until shortly after Powell's death from cancer.

Guest stars

Actor Denver Pyle became well-known for his appearances as a sheriff on Zane Grey as well as in numerous other Western and comedy series. Stars who were frequently featured on Zane Grey included Chris Alcaide (five times) David Niven, Ben Cooper (five times), Russ Conway, Joan Crawford, Edward G. Robinson, Claudette Colbert, Sammy Davis Jr., Robert Harland, Hedy Lamarr, Tyler McVey, Danny Thomas, Esther Williams, Jack Lemmon, Barbara Stanwyck, Ginger Rogers, Scott Marlowe, Robert F. Simon, and in one episode, Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Lesser-known actors also appeared, including Richard Eastham, Adam Kennedy, and Quintin Sondergaard, co-stars of the western Tombstone Territory, Conlan Carter, later nominated for an Emmy Award for his role of "Doc" in ABC's Combat!, Dennis Cross (in episodes "Sundown at Bitter Creek" and "Trail Incident"), Ron Hagerthy, as Jack Wilson in the 1960 episode "The Sunday Man", Robert Karnes, a co-star of NBC's short-lived The Lawless Years crime drama, and Judson Pratt, later a cast member of the syndicated western, Union Pacific.

The Rifleman pilot appeared in 1958. Just a few months later, The Rifleman was on the ABC fall schedule for the beginning of its popular five-year run. That episode is part of the other series' rerun package, instead of Grey's. This one was retitled The Westerners, utilizing the Black Saddle theme music, with Powell's hosting segments replaced with new ones featuring Keenan Wynn. That format was also used for a separate but connected rerun repackaging of four short-lived Western series from Four Star, Black Saddle, Johnny Ringo, The Westerner and Law of the Plainsman. An earlier rerun package was Frontier Justice, which CBS used as a summer replacement in 1958, 1959 and 1961, hosted by Lew Ayres, Melvyn Douglas and Ralph Bellamy, one each summer.

In 1958-1959, Zane Grey Theater ranked 13th of the top 25 programs. It dropped to 23rd place in 1959-1960 and disappeared from the ranking in its final season.