When “The Rifleman” debuted, it was one of seven shows to appear in the top ten of the Nielsen ratings. Nearly half of the top 30 for the 1958-59 season were westerns, and “The Rifleman” was one of the very best of them. This was one of the greatest years for the genre, with many of the shows starting to slip down the ratings over the next few years. Eventually, the top spots began to be replaced by sitcoms which have long been a favorite of TV viewers, even now.
When the genre was at its peak, though, there was nothing that could compare to it. At one time, there were 26 westerns all airing at primetime, and it looked like the genre would stick around for years to come. However, as television developed and interests changed, westerns began to fade fast. Parental TV groups didn’t approve of the violence demonstrated in these shows, which severely affected the genre’s standing when networks looked to alter their demographics. Westerns weren’t considered family friendly at a time when watching TV together was commonplace, so they didn’t have much of a leg to stand on.
Even shows like “The Rifleman” which promoted certain family values were considered questionable by many parents. They saw the presence of guns and violence as a bad influence on younger viewers who weren’t old enough to know any better.
If these parents had been aware of all the things going on behind the scenes, they probably would have been even more wary of the show. Things aren’t always the way they appear on TV which is why so many of these secrets seem to have come out of nowhere.