Matt Roush’s Picks for the 5 Best TV Westerns of All Time

Robert Duvall in Lonesome Dove

1. Lonesome Dove (1989, CBS)
Reminiscent of the greatest movie Westerns, the sweeping miniseries adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s novel features career-high work by Robert Duvall (right) and Tommy Lee Jones as Gus and Woodrow, ex–Texas Rangers leading an eventful cattle drive with such wit and heart that the story’s tragic twists made armchair cowboys weep.
Where to watch: Amazon and iTunes

2. Gunsmoke (1955–75, CBS)
Dodge City, a frontier town kept in check by quick-drawing iconic Marshal Matt Dillon (the towering James Arness), was destination TV for two decades. With its adult morality plays, Gunsmoke defined the TV Western at its height—peaking in 1958 and 1959 with 31 series in primetime—and endured to become the longest-running drama in TV history.
Where to watch: Not available to stream

3. Deadwood (2004–06, HBO)
The West was never wilder than in David Milch’s operatically profane, gut-wrenchingly brutal ode to lawlessness. Ian McShane’s aptly named Al Swearengen, a villain of Shakespearean dimension, ruled this moral cesspool with evil vitality. Its run was cut short after three seasons, and fans are still hoping for a movie sequel.
Where to watch: Amazon, HBO Go and iTunes

4. Bonanza (1959–73, NBC)
The Ponderosa Ranch became TV’s sprawling home on the range, providing a vivid backdrop—Bonanza was the first Western shown in color—for life among the Cartwrights: father Ben, handsome Little Joe, genial Hoss and (at least at first) pensive Adam. A year after Bonanza ended, Michael Landon (Joe) played dad to another beloved pioneer family in Little House on the Prairie.
Where to watch: Amazon and Hulu (Seasons 1 and 2 only)

5. Maverick (1957–62, ABC)
Sometimes you want to ride light in the saddle, and this cleverly subversive twist on the genre made a star of James Garner as wry, dashing cardsharp Bret Maverick, who preferred fleeing to fighting. (He alternated episodes with Jack Kelly as brother Bart, but Bret was definitely the keeper.) Living up to its name, Maverick sometimes tweaked its rivals with parody episodes, always getting the last laugh.
Where to watch: Amazon and iTunes