Guess what pioneering Western is turning 50 this year bearing a new network deal?
The Virginian launched on NBC in September 1962 and stayed on the air until September 1971, the genre's third-longest series run (after Bonanza and Gunsmoke).
Under a deal with NBCUniversal being announced this week, INSP has acquired the rights and will add it to the "Saddle Up Saturday" block that now includes Bonanza, The Big Valley and, coming Sept. 15, another new acquisition, High Chapparal. The Virginian joins that Saturday posse on Sept. 22, and will air during the week, too.
The first 90-minute Western series, The Virginian starred James Drury (pictured) as a mysterious defender of law and order and costarred Doug McClure as the wild young cowhand Trampas, according to TV historian Tim Brooks's Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows.
Series star Drury is still riding the range. "I am thrilled that The Virginian is coming back to television," he said in a statement. "And there's no better place to call home than INSP. They have brought back so many of the shows that America still loves, and The Virginian is sure to fit right in with their Western lineup."
Ashley Kraska, director of sales at NBCUniversal Cable & New Media Distribution, added in statement-like fashion: "The Virginian fits perfectly with INSP's family programming brand and we are delighted that viewers will be able to enjoy this classic series on the network."
INSP executives, including programming SVP Doug Butts, expect to be on hand Saturday, Sept. 22, when Drury and other cast members will attend a celebration of The Virginian at The Autry National Center in Griffith Park in downtown Los Angeles, sticking around for the $50-a-head chuck wagon dinner. Giddyup!
A version of this article appears in the Aug. 27 Multichannel News "Through the Wire" column.