Where have all the cowboys gone?


Back to cable TV, that’s for sure: Westerns used to be a dime a dozen on TV from the 50s to 70s, but died out in the mid-70s. Now there’s a bit of a resurgence, possibly based off of the extremely well-acted and produced success of the 2010 Academy Award nominated film True Grit and this summer’s box-office hit Cowboys and Aliens. True Grit first made its run with John Wayne, of course. The fuel seems to be fired by HBO’s 2004 drama Deadwood and TNT’s 2005 miniseries Into the West.

Just out of the box, we now have:

TNT recently signed for the pilot “Gateway,” the story of brothers who look to keep their 1880s Colorado town together after the death of their father, the sheriff.

A&E Network recently greenlighted “Longmire,” a Western-themed crime thriller in Montana’s Big Sky country.

AMC will debut the original series “Hell on Wheels” this fall. It follows a Confederate soldier who travels by train after the Civil War is over to get revenge on the Union soldiers who killed his wife (a bit like the theme of True Grit).

Hallmark Movie Channel will devote a good chunk of its 2012 original schedule to Westerns with two sequels from its most watched movie ever, “Goodnight for Justice.”

Starz Entertainment is also reportedly looking at Western-themed original projects to compliment its Encore Westerns channel.

“Like fashion (with the exception of the leisure suit) program genres never really disappear,” Shari Anne Brill of Shari Anne Brill Media tells RBR-TVBR. “If you recall several years ago virtually everyone in the business said comedy was dead, yet the classics continued to thrive on syndication and cable. CBS had a good comedy line-up for years and Fox was solid with animation domination. When ABC launched Modern Family, it inspired a new wave of comedy development.”

However, last year Fox launched the critically acclaimed Lone Star. Audiences failed to show up and the drama was pulled after two episodes. The show did not appeal to the typical Fox viewer and it was not promoted to the likely audience that would tune in.

However, just as country music had attracted a crossover audience. Western-inspired dramas also could have potential, says Brill. “Older viewers will wax nostalgic for them and 18-49 audiences could embrace them provided there is relatable storytelling. Right now, it seems as if the bad guys are winning, so a show that had the good guys triumph over evil, is a very appealing fantasy of late. Separately, it is imperative that the cast for these new series be comprised of multi-ethnic talent.”

Most importantly, she adds, cable and broadcast networks need to amp up their marketing dollars to promote these shows to viewers, many of them would prefer a scripted series as an alternative to the glut of reality shows. “But, they need to be aware of their existence.”

RBR-TVBR observation: This may be a good entrée for radio AEs to visit the cable networks for a tune-in ad plan to hype these new shows. Self-promotion of shows on a cable network and/or sister networks often annoys viewers, who tire of seeing the same promo over and over and over again watching a favorite show. If you can’t sell the inventory, then make the show half an hour instead of an hour filled with in-house clutter. Thinking—and going—outside of the box to other media like radio is a better move, in our humble opinion. As well, on the flip side, the trades are always an option for the networks to hype the shows to potential agencies and marketers.