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PIONEERS OF TELEVISION: Westerns

Airs Friday, July 12, 2013 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon on "Gunsmoke"

They were the stars of the small screen in the early years of television, and much of the nation came to a halt whenever their shows aired. They strolled, sprinted, fought, laughed, cried and loved through worlds that took viewers to places past, present and future. As the originators of these innovative television formats, they provided an essential escape for millions of viewers who eagerly waited to watch them each week.

Cast on the set of "Bonanza."
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Above: Cast on the set of "Bonanza."

Fess Parker and Rosey Grier on the set of "Daniel Boone."
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Above: Fess Parker and Rosey Grier on the set of "Daniel Boone."

James Garner as Bret Maverick on "Maverick."
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Above: James Garner as Bret Maverick on "Maverick."

PIONEERS OF TELEVISION returns to PBS for a second season in January 2011, offering the inside stories of these formidable visionaries who recall the fledgling medium they shaped with their creativity, foresight and wisdom.

This series once again transports viewers behind the scenes for a revealing look at the inception of four of the most popular genres in television: science fiction (July 5), westerns (July 12), crime dramas (July 19) and local kids’ TV (July 26).

Known everywhere as the quintessential American cultural identity, westerns filled small screens across the country night after night and were some of the most successful television shows in history. Fess Parker’s portrayal of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett channeled the bravery, independence, honesty and rugged individualism of a young nation — and made Walt Disney enough money to build an empire.

Westerns introduced James Garner, who starred in the television hit “Maverick,” where he developed the reluctant hero character that would cement his successful TV and film career. Garner, in his only recent interview, and Parker tell their stories, and Linda Evans recalls how two strong female characters emerged with her onscreen interaction with Barbara Stanwyck in “The Big Valley.”

This episode also examines the success of Robert Conrad in “The Wild Wild West,” the popularity of “Bonanza” and the creation of the classic series “Gunsmoke” with James Arness — one of the longest-running television series of all time.

This program originally aired in 2011.

Pioneers of Television: Westerns

Pioneers of Television: Westerns

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Video Excerpt: Pioneers Of Television: Westerns: Linda Evans

Above: In this clip from PIONEERS OF TELEVISION "Westerns," Linda Evans explains what it was like to perform stunts for "The Big Valley." As the only daughter of the show's matriarch, Linda Evans's character Audra frequently performed stunts and got her hands dirty. "Pioneers Of Television" returns for second season for a revealing look at the inception of four of the most popular genres in television: science fiction, westerns, crime dramas and local kids' TV.

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Video Excerpt: Pioneers Of Television: Westerns: William Shatner

Above: In this clip from PIONEERS OF TELEVISION "Westerns," William Shatner tells a story of a fellow actor on “Gunsmoke” taking his role as a bad guy a bit too far.

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