There was a time when Westerns were the most popular genre on television. Families would gather around their TV sets to watch shows like “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “The Rifleman” and “Winchester 73,” the list goes on and on. These days, great Westerns are few and far between, and when one manages to be a hit, usually it sticks around.
Recent examples of this include HBO’s gritty “Deadwood” or FX’s more modern take, “Justified.” Both of these shows captured the essence of the genre perfectly. Another such example that recently met its untimely end was A&E;’s hit “Longmire.”
“Longmire,” which I’ve heard described as “Justified Lite” (a description I would disagree with), was canceled at the end of last month by A&E; despite it being the network’s second watched program and highest watched scripted program ever.
The show, which is based on author Craig Johnson’s “Walt Longmire Mysteries” book series, starred Robert Taylor as Absoroka County, Wyoming, Sheriff Walter Longmire. Battlestar Galactica alum Katee Sackhoff played fiery deputy Vic Moretti, Bailey Chase (of “Saving Grace” fame) played deputy Branch Connally and Lou Diamond Phillips played Longmire’s best friend, Henry Standing Bear.
The show could be compared to a Western version of shows like CSI or other detective shows in which each episode focused on a certain case but also had overarching character stories that threaded through each season, the biggest of which was Longmire trying to find the man who killed his wife.
A&E;’s cancellation of the show came as a shock, but in looking at the network’s history, it was a predictable one. This is, after all, the network that axed “The Glades” when it was at the height of its run. The question is why? My guess would be to make more room for programming in the vein of “Duck Dynasty,” which is the network’s most-watched show.
The real problem that comes in canceling “Longmire” is the fact that the show, while far from perfect, quite literally had something for everyone. Rather than being an over-the-top gory affair like “Deadwood,” this was a show you could sit down and watch with your parents without fear of being embarrassed. It was accessible and easy to get into.
Taylor’s portrayal of Johnson’s character was absolutely perfect. He played Longmire as a smart, tough cowboy who had been around the block a time or two. The same could be said for Sackhoff, who played Vic with an edge but also let viewers see that the character was as troubled as her past.
The writing made the characters relatable and managed to stray from clichés while still finding ways to tie into Johnson’s books. Despite episodes being an hour long, they flew by because they were tight and paced well. It was a show you could throw on when you needed something to watch and get right into.
What set “Longmire” apart were the tensions and social issues the show spoke to regarding the rift between Walt and the Cheyenne reservation police chief Mathias (who was played by Zahn McClarnon).
One of the show’s main plot points and conflicts focused on whose toes were being stepped on, which not only caused not only a lot of good discussion, but also shed some light on some things that were otherwise previously unconsidered. Sure, “CSI” might deal with a murder case, but I’ve never seen it come close to political discussion or legal obligations like “Longmire” did.
The biggest disappointment with the show’s cancellation is that it ended on an absolute cliff-hanger. It’s quite possible a main character was murdered in cold blood during the final moments of the Season 3 finale, and it hurts as a fan to know that I may never find out of that character survived or not. Add that the show was finally working towards the big reveal of who killed Walt’s wife, and the entire character’s arch was for nothing if the show is not picked up by another network and the question is answered.
Time Warner Cable is shopping the show to other networks, and hopefully it will have a buyer. It really is a shame to see one of the most underrated TV shows in recent memory to go out like this. It speaks volumes about A&E; as a network though, proving that it would rather air more “Duck Dynasty” and fewer sophisticated, thinking-man’s programs.
We’ll see how well that works out in the next couple of years. Hopefully this generation isn’t that willing to waste its brain cells.
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