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TV History: Lone Ranger

by Christine Becker

This clip was uploaded for an assignment in Christine Becker's FTT 30461: History of Television class at the University of Notre Dame in Spring 2019. Check the commentary dropdown menu for a student's analysis of the clip.

The Lone Ranger: a Foundation for The Western

by Allison Hubbard

By the end of the 1940s, the new medium of television was beginning to creep in on radio’s dominance of American broadcasting entertainment. Markedly due to the post-war economic and consumerist boom, TV sets were increasingly being produced and bought by American families. Also notably, and possibly correlative to the growing need for TV entertainment, people were having more children. As noted by Gary R. Edgerton in The Columbia History of American Television, “this increased affluence also resulted in the emergence of young people as a designated market unto themselves. Children were similarly targeted from the outset as a separate audience by pioneering television executives and producers” (179). In the postbellum economic structure of wives and mothers leaving their wartime jobs becoming homemakers, TV became a staple of their lives. In American homes, “they often used TV as a temporary babysitter while they paid more attention to their household chores, especially preparing dinner” (180). This parental desire for child entertainment led to the use of prime time slots for children's programming, and subsequently created a need for even more shows to draw kids in and hold their attention.

As early television began to grow in network support and cultural relevance, and as it became increasingly clear that there was a substantial market of young TV viewers, new genres began to be explored. One of the most notable early genres of TV was the Western. One of the first primetime westerns produced was The Lone Ranger, following only The Adventures of Cyclone Malone and Hopalong Cassidy. Airing on ABC with its first episode released September of 1949, The Lone Ranger was unquestionably a transformative show, lasting 8 years, sustaining five seasons, and opening the doors of the genre’s success on the TV medium.

The premier episode of The Lone Ranger, “Enter the Lone Ranger,” opens with William Tell’s iconic overture as the masked Lone Ranger, played by Clayton Moore, rides his white horse. Introduced as a figure of justice, law and order in the wild west, the episode tells the beginnings of the fictional Lone Ranger, how he came to be. As a member of the Texas Rangers, the Lone Ranger-- before he is lone-- sets out on a mission to confront a band of outlaws, the Cavendishes. In typical low-budget, early-film fashion, the troupe enters into a gun battle with the outlaws, with loud pops, smoking fake guns, and miscalculated falls to death. As a children’s show, The Lone Ranger could not be too violent or realistic. Death was implied in this opening episode, but not glorified. The massacre results in a sole survivor who is rescued and nursed to health by a Native American-- or Indian, as he is referred as in the show-- Tonto. The recovering man here becomes the Lone Ranger.

Discussing the slaughter with Tonto, the Lone Ranger mulls over the grave injustice of their deaths: “Yes they were brave, and they won’t be forgotten. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking; for every one of those men, I’m going to bring 100 law breakers to justice. I’ll make that Cavendish gang, and every criminal I can find, for that matter, regret the day those rangers were killed. Tonto, from this moment on, I’m going to devote my life to establishing law and order in this new frontier, to make the West a decent place to live” (“Enter the Lone Ranger”). The Lone Ranger has named his quest, which will serve as the driving force of the shows plot.

Though this may seem like an adult theme for a children’s show, the overarching sense of justice and the figure of noble masculinity prevails and keeps the show within the bounds of something appropriate for kids. Further, the Lone Ranger’s valiant goals are qualified as decent when he proclaims, “I’m not going to do any killing. I’ll shoot if I have to, but I’ll shoot to wound not to kill. If a man must die, it’s up to the law to decide that, not the person behind the six-shooter.” The Lone Ranger here conveys a message suitable for kids, that violence is only justifiable in self-defense and in the pursuit of justice, but even still, killing should never be the goal.

The episode’s representations of justice and morality while still using entertaining, though basic, scenes of gun battles allows The Lone Ranger to function as fun, yet virtuous, show for children. The premier episode’s successful introduction of the character and story set the table for the show to thrive for five more seasons. The show’s continued popularity supported the development of the genre as a whole. Notably, “before 1955-1956, only two Westerns had ever made it into the top 10: The Lone Ranger was no. 7 and Hopalong Cassidy was no. 9 in 1950-1851” (196). The Lone Ranger was clearly successful and fundamental in popularizing the genre of Westerns. Further, having Westerns start as children’s shows led to a subsequent generation of young adults who were already fans of westerns: “the kids who grew up watching... the Lone Ranger and Tonto… were primed for something a little more sophisticated when a second wave of Westerns made it to television beginning in 1955 with the premiers of Gunsmoke on CBS, as well as Cheyenne and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp on ABC” (196). In many ways, The Lone Ranger, though a children’s western and basic in structure, paved the way for a booming genre that would dominate TV networks for decades to come.


As early television began to grow in network support and cultural relevance, and as it became increasingly clear that there was a substantial market of young TV viewers, new genres began to be explored. One of the most notable early genres of TV was the Western. One of the first primetime westerns produced was The Lone Ranger, following only The Adventures of Cyclone Malone and Hopalong Cassidy. Airing on ABC with its first episode released September of 1949, The Lone Ranger was unquestionably a transformative show, lasting 8 years, sustaining five seasons, and opening the doors of the genre’s success on the TV medium.
The premier episode of The Lone Ranger, “Enter the Lone Ranger,” opens with William Tell’s iconic overture as the masked Lone Ranger, played by Clayton Moore, rides his white horse. Introduced as a figure of justice, law and order in the wild west, the episode tells the beginnings of the fictional Lone Ranger, how he came to be. As a member of the Texas Rangers, the Lone Ranger-- before he is lone-- sets out on a mission to confront a band of outlaws, the Cavendishes. In typical low-budget, early-film fashion, the troupe enters into a gun battle with the outlaws, with loud pops, smoking fake guns, and miscalculated falls to death. As a children’s show, The Lone Ranger could not be too violent or realistic. Death was implied in this opening episode, but not glorified. The massacre results in a sole survivor who is rescued and nursed to health by a Native American-- or Indian, as he is referred as in the show-- Tonto. The recovering man here becomes the Lone Ranger.
Discussing the slaughter with Tonto, the Lone Ranger mulls over the grave injustice of their deaths: “Yes they were brave, and they won’t be forgotten. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking; for every one of those men, I’m going to bring 100 law breakers to justice. I’ll make that Cavendish gang, and every criminal I can find, for that matter, regret the day those rangers were killed. Tonto, from this moment on, I’m going to devote my life to establishing law and order in this new frontier, to make the West a decent place to live” (“Enter the Lone Ranger”). The Lone Ranger has named his quest, which will serve as the driving force of the shows plot.
Though this may seem like an adult theme for a children’s show, the overarching sense of justice and the figure of noble masculinity prevails and keeps the show within the bounds of something appropriate for kids. Further, the Lone Ranger’s valiant goals are qualified as decent when he proclaims, “I’m not going to do any killing. I’ll shoot if I have to, but I’ll shoot to wound not to kill. If a man must die, it’s up to the law to decide that, not the person behind the six-shooter.” The Lone Ranger here conveys a message suitable for kids, that violence is only justifiable in self-defense and in the pursuit of justice, but even still, killing should never be the goal.
The episode’s representations of justice and morality while still using entertaining, though basic, scenes of gun battles allows The Lone Ranger to function as fun, yet virtuous, show for children. The premier episode’s successful introduction of the character and story set the table for the show to thrive for five more seasons. The show’s continued popularity supported the development of the genre as a whole. Notably, “before 1955-1956, only two Westerns had ever made it into the top 10: The Lone Ranger was no. 7 and Hopalong Cassidy was no. 9 in 1950-1851” (196). The Lone Ranger was clearly successful and fundamental in popularizing the genre of Westerns. Further, having Westerns start as children’s shows led to a subsequent generation of young adults who were already fans of westerns: “the kids who grew up watching... the Lone Ranger and Tonto… were primed for something a little more sophisticated when a second wave of Westerns made it to television beginning in 1955 with the premiers of Gunsmoke on CBS, as well as Cheyenne and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp on ABC” (196). In many ways, The Lone Ranger, though a children’s western and basic in structure, paved the way for a booming genre that would dominate TV networks for decades to come.

Excerpt from THE LONE RANGER

This clip contains an excerpt from the first episode of THE LONE RANGER

from The Lone Ranger - Enter the Lone Ranger (1952) (1952)
Creator: Fran Striker, George W. Trendle
Distributor: YouTube (User: LonePineTheatre)
Posted by Christine Becker
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