The classic TV Western series 'Bronco' had an interesting broadcast history. It debuted on the ABC television network on September 23, 1958 during what would have been the fourth season of 'Cheyenne', except for a contract dispute Clint Walker had with Warner Brothers. 'Bronco' alternated weekly episodes with 'Sugarfoot' starring Will Hutchins during the 1958/1959 season, and during the next two years it shared time with both 'Cheyenne'
and 'Sugarfoot'. In it's fourth and final season, the show alternated with 'Cheyenne', which went on to last one more year. The Bronco theme song is prominent in the early episodes, but in it's final seasons, the show appeared under the Cheyenne banner with a musical opening without lyrics from all three programs.
Actor Ty Hardin portrayed the character of Bronco Layne (no, not a misspelling, check the credits). It was revealed in the very first episode titled 'The Besieged' how Bronco came about his name. As a youth, he had Indian friends who taught him how to tame and ride wild horses. That first show had Claude Akins and Jack Elam appearing as guest stars. It didn't take very long for Hardin to show off his muscular physique, his first beefcake scene occurred in the second episode, 'Quest of the Thirty Dead'. From there on, he made any number of appearances without his shirt on, presumably to the delight of the show's female fans.
It was in the second season episode 'The Burning Springs' that Bronco's background was revealed as a captain in the Confederate Army during the Civil War with Company B, the Moccasin Rangers. In the story, he impersonates a Union officer to learn the enemy's position. Future TV Batman, Adam West appeared in the episode, interesting in itself because the part of the costumed hero was first offered to Hardin, who had to decline because of another filming project. If things had gone slightly different, Hardin might be better known today.
One of the things that intrigues me with these early TV programs is seeing who shows up before they became major stars. Among the character actors who appeared in the series were Myron Healey, John Dehner, Leo Gordon, Alan Hale Jr. and Harry Lauter. Bigger names in later years included James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, and Buddy Ebsen. But the biggest surprise appearance to my mind had to be that of actress Mary Tyler Moore who showed up in #2.27, 'Flight From an Empire'. The following year, Moore appeared as a saloon gal in a 'Wanted: Dead or Alive' episode with Steve McQueen. But for sheer star power, it was episode #4.54, 'The Equalizer' that had the most recognizable celebrity names in it, with Marie Windsor, Harry Lauter, Jack Elam, Steve Brodie, and get this - Jack Nicholson!, as a member of the Bill Doolin gang feuding with the Butch Cassidy bunch! It was a minor part for Nicholson, but what the heck, he was in it!
Following the weekly shows, you really couldn't pin down Bronco with any particular job. He cold be a trail driver, a sheriff in a small town, a wagon master, or simply a cowboy riding from town to town in the Old West. Most of the shows took place in the years following the Civil War, with Layne meeting up with legendary characters like Wild Bill Hickok, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Jesse James and Butch Cassidy. Quick on the draw and handy with his fists, Bronco Layne cut an imposing figure, as suggested by a Wanted Poster in #2.35, 'Montana Passage'. Falsely accused of a crime, Bronco is described as six feet four inches and twenty six years old.
With some regret, I never caught the show when it originally aired on television, but just recently finished watching all sixty eight episodes of the series. Putting things in perspective, I'd consider 'Bronco' a mid-tier TV Western, adequate for it's time during the Golden Age of television, but not quite as good as some of the premier shows like 'The Rifleman', 'Wanted: Dead or Alive', or it's counterpart in the ABC lineup, 'Cheyenne'. Still, when I say that I never ran across a Western I didn't like, I'd have to include 'Bronco' in the mix.