CBS has contracted playwright/filmmaker/showrunner David Mamet to write and direct a pilot that could lead to the revival of the classic Western TV series Have Gun -- Will Travel.
The original series, which ran from 1957-1963 and 225 episodes was set in the 1870s starred Richard Boone as a man living under the name of Paladin. Paladin was a man with sophisticated taste, a classical education, and a vague and mysterious past. He made his living as a freelance champion, charging up to a thousand dollars a job protecting people from outlaws, scoundrels, and rogues.
He would arrive in town, dressed completely in black, and give the miscreants one chance to end their criminal ways and leave in peace. Usually they didn't listen, and then the fighting would commence, and the bad guys would promptly rest in peace.
The show featured a lot of the then up and coming writers and directors working in TV at that time, including Gene Roddenberry, Sam Peckinpah, and even Ida Lupino.
So, let's look at the pros and cons...
1. DAVID MAMET: David Mamet is probably one of the best dramatists working these days. He also has experience making TV, as he did as a writer/producer with the military drama The Unit, which ran for 4 years on CBS. He can bring depth of character and story to the normally wafer thin genre of the action-drama. Plus, he won't be bound by political correctness when it comes to presenting the historical setting.
2. THE GENRE: There was a time when Westerns dominated television. But it faded away eventually, and despite some attempts it, so far, has only shown signs of life on cable channels like AMC and HBO.
However, in the right hands, an adult-oriented Western, with good characters, story, and a liberal peppering of action, could be seen by audiences as exotic and interesting.
1. THE GENRE: While the "adult Western" genre has a potential for a comeback on network television, the networks have managed to find ways to screw it up.
The problem is the mindset that many network executives have that dictate that shows set in the "wild west" have to be either The Lone Ranger, Little House On The Prairie, or some bastardized amalgamation of both.
If they go for The Lone Ranger they treat it as an action-adventure aimed at boys between the ages of 6 and 12. Lots of unrealistic action, politically correct (for the time) lessons for the young members of the audience, thin characters, no romance, and no drama.
If they go for Little House, they try to mold it into an overly sincere family drama about life with cute bucket-headed children that tries to teach a different lesson about understanding and working together in every episode.
2. THE NETWORK: As I've written earlier this week it's really hard to get something that breaks the mold on network TV. While there was once a time when a new Western show would be a no-brainer, it's now a tremendous risk.
CBS is notoriously risk-averse. So far it's worked out well for them, but I fear that they may have forgotten that their biggest hits of the past decade, like the CSI franchise, their multi-camera sitcoms, and their recent hit Person Of Interest, were all considered "risky" choices at the time they were given the green light.
Personally, while I normally don't care for remakes on principle, I would like to see a network try to make a real adult Western, and I would like to see Mamet's take on the genre.
That's what I think, let me know what you think in the comments.