THE RIFLEMAN was ranked 46th of the 100 all-time greatest television shows in the July 5/12, 2013 issue of the television trade publication Entertainment Weekly. It was the highest ranked western in the hit parade of TV show listings.
What becomes a legend most?
No one would have imagined when the 168th and last episode of THE RIFLEMAN was broadcast in 1963, and the sun set for the last time on the town of North Fork, that THE RIFLEMAN would become an enduring classic television series. But, more than 50 years on, Lucas McCain and his son Mark and Marshal Micah Torrance continue to find their way into the living rooms of television viewers thanks to cable tier networks like AMC-TV and MeTV, where it is seen in more than 46 broadcast outlets in the US and Canada. And of course, there’s Hulu and the official website, where selected episodes can be seen online.
Arthur Gardner, one of the show’s original producers, is bemused. At 103, he still visits the offices of Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions (LGL Productions), which owns the series to this day, and with a twinkle in his eye he will tell you that it’s the fans who keep the show going. And not only the original viewers—the rearguard of the baby boomer generation—who remember watching the weekly series on ABC, but also their kids and their great grandkids, and a new generation that has found the series all on its own.
Gardner gives all credit to his partners Jules Levy and Arnold Laven for producing a show with characters and themes that people not only cared about, but also admired. He will tell you that Jules dreamed up the show title and Arnold, who directed many of the episodes, developed the show around four core themes, from which it never deviated. The show focused on the Winchester rifle, the father-son relationship, the simple wisdom of parables or moral lessons told through story-telling, and of course, classic western motifs. Add well-written stories and sympathetic characters believably portrayed by the show’s stars, Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain playing father opposite Johnny Crawford as son Mark, and THE RIFLEMAN seems to have tapped the universal appeal of memorable characters and timeless themes that everyone can to relate to on a personal level.