James Garner in Maverick

James Garner in Maverick

April 04, 2023
In The Mix

Emmy Moments: Best Western Series

This year the Emmy Awards turn seventy-five! Get in the spirit with our series of time-defying flashbacks.

Only one program has ever received an Emmy for Best Western Series: ABC's Maverick — starring James Garner as a skirt-chasing, poker-playing rambler — got the draw on rivals Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, Wagon Train and Have Gun, Will Travel. That was in 1959, the first and only year the Emmy category existed.

It was a high time for the genre; twenty-five Westerns were on the air. But just over the horizon lurked the cop show and the medical show, which would surpass the Western in popularity by the mid-1960s. Gunsmoke, Bonanza and a few others enjoyed long runs, but the TV Western wouldn't climb back up in the saddle for another twenty years.

In the late '80s, Westerns returned — mostly as television movies — and in 1989 CBS's Lonesome Dove notched eighteen Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Miniseries, winning six awards. Another peak appeared in 2007, when AMC's Broken Trail won for Outstanding Miniseries and HBO's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (based on the nonfiction book by Dee Brown, about the forced displacement and killings of Indigenous peoples) won for Outstanding TV Movie.

Now viewers are streaming the likes of Taylor Sheridan's Yellowstone and 1883 — the latter stars Sam Elliott, who also appeared in Gunsmoke. For audiences and actors, the West still beckons.

See more Emmy Moments.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #2, 2023.

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