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Lucy, Lassie, The Beav: What Were The Best '50s TV Shows?

Culture | March 30, 2018

Left: Tony Dow as Wally Cleaver and Jerry Mathers as Beaver Cleaver in 'Leave It to Beaver,' circa 1960. Right: James Arness and Amanda Blake in 'Gunsmoke.' Source: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images; IMDB

In the '50s, TV was breaking new ground -- the medium was young, and the shows created were setting templates that would exist for decades to follow. We were seeing the first TV sitcoms, the first dramas; we were watching storytelling evolve from radio and movies into a serial format delivered to our living rooms ever week. The creators could hardly know the permanence of their work -- shows like The Honeymooners, Ozzie And Harriet, and Leave It To Beaver would keep people laughing for years and years afterward as they were re-run in syndication. Thanks to specialty networks and streaming services, we can still watch Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and The Twilight Zone today. Here's a look back at some of the best viewing from the golden age of television.

'The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet' (1952-66)

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was a sitcom about an American family that starred the real-life Nelson family. After a long run on radio, the show was introduced to television, where it continued its success. The program initially ran simultaneously on radio and TV. The show starred Ozzie Nelson, his wife, who was a singer, Harriet Nelson, and their sons, David and Eric "Ricky" NelsonDon DeFore was the Nelsons' friendly neighbor "Thorny.”

'Father Knows Best' (1954-60)

Robert Young, Lauren Chapin, Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray, and Jane Wyatt in Father Knows Best (1954) Source: IMDB

Father Knows Best starred Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray, and Lauren Chapin. The program followed the lives of the Anderson family; a middle-class family from the town of, Springfield. This series’ first aired on radio in 1949 and aired for six seasons with a total of 203 episodes. The show first aired on CBS in October 1954, but ran for just one season and was canceled the following year. It was then picked up by NBC and remained on TV for three seasons. After a second cancellation in 1958, the series was picked up, yet again, by CBS, where it aired until May 1960.

'I Love Lucy' (1951-57)

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball on 'I Love Lucy.' Source: IMDB

I Love Lucy is an American television sitcom that starred Lucille Ball, along with her much loved husband, Desi Arnaz. Co-stars Vivian Vance and William Frawley were supporting actors and staples on the show. The black-and-white version of the program ran from October 15, 1951 to May 6, 1957 on CBS. After the series ended in 1957, a modified version continued for three more seasons with 13 one-hour specials that ran from 1957 to 1960. This classic TV show was first known as The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, and later in reruns as The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour. The show won five Emmy Awards and received numerous nominations and the first show ever to feature an ensemble cast.

I Love Lucy was the most watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons, and it was the first to end its run at the top of the Nielsen ratings.

'The Honeymooners' (1955-56)

Art Carney and Jackie Gleason on 'The Honeymooners.' Source: IMDB

The Honeymooners was one of the first American television shows to portray working class, married couples in a non-idyllic manner. The show was the epitome of the “real” married couple. It was mostly set in the Kramdens' kitchen.

'Lassie' (1954-74)

Lassie was a beloved female Collie dog who was smarter than the average dog. Timmy was Lassie’s boy. Despite popular belief, Timmy never really did fall down in a well.

'Leave It To Beaver' (1957-63)

Leave It to Beaver was an American television sitcom about an inquisitive and often painfully naive boy named Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver. Beaver Cleaver was portrayed by Jerry Mathers. The show also starred Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont as Beaver's parents, June and Ward Cleaver, and Tony Dow as Beaver's brother Wally. The Cleavers came to exemplify the idealized suburban family of the mid-20th century.

'The Twilight Zone' (1959-64)

The Twilight Zone was an American classic based on the anthology created by Rod Serling. The episodes are in various genres, including fantasy, science fiction, suspense, and psychological thriller, often ending with an unexpected twist with some sort of a moral.

'The Rifleman' (1958-63)

Paul Fix, Johnny Crawford and Chuck Connors in 'The Rifleman.' Source: IMDB

The Rifleman was a western sitcom that captured many viewers. Chuck Connors starred in the series with Johnny Crawford as his son, Mark. The father and son pair shared a strong, father/son relationship after the woman (wife and mother) in their lives died.

Bonanza (1959-73)

Michael Landon on 'Bonanza,' circa 1959. Source: IMDB

Bonanza was an NBC TV western genre series that began in 1959. The program told the story of the Cartwright family, and lasted 14 seasons, with 431 episodes. Bonanza is NBC's longest-running western TV show and boasts the rank, overall, as the second-longest-running western series on American network television and within the top 10 longest-running, live-action American series.

'Gunsmoke' (1955-75)

James Arness in 'Gunsmoke.' Source: IMDB

Gunsmoke was an American radio and television western drama series created by Norman Macdonnell and John Meston. The stories in the series took place in and around Dodge City, Kansas, during the settlement of the American West. The main character was the competent lawman, Marshal Matt Dillon.

The series began in 1952 and aired for more than 20 years. Gunsmoke is often referred to as “the best shows of any kind and any time," and boasted an impressive 635 episodes

'The Lone Ranger' (1949-57)

Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore on 'The Lone Ranger.'

The fictional story line of The Lone Ranger tells the story of a patrol of six Texas Rangers that was massacred, with only one surviving member. The "lone" survivor, thereafter, disguised himself with a black mask and traveled with his trusted compadre, Tonto, throughout the state of Texas and the American West. Their mission was to assist people that were challenged by the lawless elements. A silver mine supplies The Lone Ranger with the name of his horse as well as the funds required to finance his wandering life-style and the raw material for his signature bullets.

'Rawhide' (1959-64)

Clint Eastwood on 'Rawhide.' Source: IMDB

Rawhide was a western TV series starring Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood. The show aired for eight seasons on the CBS network on Friday nights, from January 9, 1959, to September 3, 1965, before moving to Tuesday nights from September 14, 1965, until January 4, 1966, with a total of 217 black-and-white episodes. The series was produced and sometimes directed by Charles Marquis Warren, who also produced early episodes of Gunsmoke.

Rawhide was the sixth longest running American television Western, which spanned seven and a half years. Wagon Train ran for eight years, The Virginian ran for nine years, Bonanza has a fourteen year run, Death Valley Days ran for eighteen years and Gunsmoke ran for twenty years. 

Clint Eastwood got his breakout role on the television program Rawhide starring as Rowdy Yates. He then moved on portraying tough characters in a string of Sergio Leone movie Westerns and the Dirty Harry franchise.

Tags: I Love Lucy | Lassie | Leave It To Beaver | Popular Lists Of Everything From The Groovy Era | The 1950s | The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet | The Honeymooners | TV In The 1950s

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.