3 October 2011 | raysond
Commentary on Cimarron City: NBC's answer to Gunsmoke that lasted one season after 26 episodes from Revue Studios
The short-lived series "Cimarron City" may not have been a particularly memorable western,but it had a great premise. When this western premiered on NBC-TV in October of 1958,the network mounted that "Cimarron City" was going to be bigger and better than "Wagon Train"(which was at the time the network's top-rated program,and the second most watched show on television). "Cimarron City" was the predecessor to "The Virginian",more or less-with a huge cast,a bigger than average budget and a large scope since "Cimarron City" was produced by Revue Studios,the same company that produced "Wagon Train",not to mention other Westerns of that era like "Shotgun Slade",and not to mention family comedies like "Leave It To Beaver".
"Cimarron City" stars George Montgomery as the mayor of the title town in Oklahoma that was founded by his father. The original idea was that he'd star in one-third of the hour long episodes,but also served as the narrator(and perhaps do several cameos)in the other segments. One third of the episodes starred young handsome John Smith as the town lawman who kept the peace in the city,while actress Audrey Totter,a veteran of "B" crime noir movies and westerns would serve as the show's answer to Gunsmoke's Amanda Blake. NBC and the powers that be at Revue Studios hope that Audrey Totter would give Amanda Blake a run for her money,but that wasn't the case. The only problem was,the writers didn't know what to do with her,at least not in lead roles. She became a bit player in several episodes of this series-so much that Totter-unhappy about being reduced from a star to a bit player,walked away from the series after 19 episodes(her final appearance on "Cimarron City" was in episode 19 titled "The Return of the Dead" that aired on February 14, 1959).
Meanwhile,the show-though a good one with some great acting and writing in some episodes was basically on the same level as "Gunsmoke" and "Wagon Train". But it wasn't. After 26 episodes,"Cimarron City" was suffering in the ratings where the show was on Saturday nights opposite not only "Have Gun,Will Travel",and "Gunsmoke"(which were among the top rated western shows),but also it was up against the courtroom drama "Perry Mason",and the musical-variety series "The Lawrence Welk Show". Out of the 26 episodes that this series produced,"Cimarron City" premiered on NBC-TV from October 11, 1958 until April 4, 1959,which was a hour long series in classic black and white for Mont Productions in association with NBC-TV/Revue Studios.
With its homey feel,"Cimarron City" would have been far better off in another time slot where it could have really blossomed into a great series. Another reason why this show was brilliant,but was slipping in the ratings,was the casting of actor Dan Blocker(who after this series ended would go on to star as Hoss Cartwright on "Bonanza",the show that replaced "Cimarron City" for the 1959-1960 season). Blocker played sidekick and deputy Tiny Budinger who would keep the peace alongside the marshal(John Smith) in preserving law and order in the city. Several episodes were very good from this series from the premiere episode "I, The People", to others "Twelve Guns"(Episode 4),"Hired Hand"(Episode 6),"The Bitter Lesson"(Episode 13),"Ratman"(Episode 22), "Runaway Train"(Episode 17),"The Beauty and the Sorrow"(Episode 18), "To Become A Man"(Episode 3),"Blind Is The Killer"(Episode 20),to the final episode of the series "The Evil One"(Episode 26). By the end of the first season,despite the low ratings it received,"Cimarron City" was gone by the Spring of 1959 after 26 episodes. Still was a very good western from the 1950's with a fine cast.