The Virginian is a western-themed television series which aired on NBC from 1962 to 1971 for a total of 249 episodes. It was the first western to air in 90-minute installments each week (75 minutes excluding commercial breaks), and was filmed in the color format from its inception. The Virginian is the third longest running TV western with its nine seasons and 249 episodes. It follows Bonanza at fourteen seasons and 430 episodes and Gunsmoke at twenty seasons and 635 episodes.
Loosely based on the Owen Wister novel, the series revolves around a foreman, played by James Drury, who goes by the name The Virginian; his real name was never revealed in the nine years the show was on the air. The series takes place in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, and revolves around The Virginian's quest to maintain an orderly lifestyle for the ranch he works on, which is called Shiloh Ranch. Other key characters include ranch owner Judge Garth (played by Lee J. Cobb), his daughter Betsy (played by Roberta Shore) and loyal ranch hands, Trampas (played by Doug McClure) and Steve Hill (played by Gary Clarke). The Virginian's white horse on the show is named Joe D. As the show progressed, Trampas became the more recognizable of the characters, and it continues to be the role for which actor Doug McClure is best known.
Randy Benton (played by Randy Boone) joined the show in the second season as a youthful ranch hand who plays guitar and sings duets of folk and country songs with Betsy Garth. In 1965 Decca Records released an LP of songs from the two singing actors. The theme song was titled "Lonesome Tree" and was written by Percy Faith and conducted by Revue musical director, Stanley Wilson. The theme song during the opening credits changes in instrumentation during the course of the show. Heard first as a guitar focused ballad, it then progressed into multiple horn instruments and other orchestral flourishes. The third season adds Deputy Sheriff Emmett Ryker (played by Clu Gulager) while the fourth season adds Garth's niece Jennifer Sommers (played by Diane Roter) upon Betsy Garth's departure from Shiloh ranch.
The ranch has several owners throughout the program's run starting with Judge Garth who is replaced briefly by Morgan Starr (played by John Dehner) who then leaves with no explanation. John Grainger (played by Charles Bickford) then becomes the new owner. Clay Grainger (played by John McIntire) takes over ownership after his brother's death. The final owner is Colonel Alan MacKenzie (played by Stewart Granger). The fifth season adds a new female lead character Elizabeth Grainger (played by Sara Lane) and Stacey Grainger (played by Don Quine). The sixth season adds Holly Grainger (played by Jeanette Nolan) as the wife of McIntire's character. The seventh season adds David Sutton (played byDavid Hartman). The eighth season adds Jim Horn (played by Tim Matheson). The final season has no female lead character in the cast and includes Roy Tate (played by Lee Majors).