Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Debuting September 30, 1958 on ABC, The Rifleman set itself apart from most of the other western series of the period by giving its titular hero a family--and plenty of family responsibilities. Former pro baseball player Chuck Connors starred as Lucas McCain, a widowed westerner who moved to North Fork, New Mexico to carve out a new life for himself and his young son Mark (Johnny Crawford). All Lucas wanted was to leave the peaceful life of a rancher, but his reputation as a fast gun preceded him and he spent several episodes warding off various villains who desired to bump him off. Even so, he was determined to instill decent humans values in son Mark, forever advising the boy that violence should never be used unless as a last resort. That said, he was forced into that "last resort" in virtually every episode, usually in self-defense or to protect Mark: For reasons best known to the scriptwriters, tiny little North Fork was a magnet for virtually every outlaw, scoundrel, reprobate, sleazebag and psycho in the Old West--and every one of them had itchy trigger fingers! McCain was known as "The Rifleman" because he always carried a customer Winchester repeater, with a large ring on the trigger that allowed him to cock the weapon as he drew it. Indeed, each week for the first four seasons the viewers were treated to a rapid-fire example of Lucas' shooting skills (he could fire a single round in 3/10ths of a second!) during the opening credits, even before the episode proper began. Our hero's remarkable prowess with a firearm was a godsend to North Fork's aging Marshal Micah Torrence (Paul Fix), a honest but generally ineffectual man who had a great deal of trouble keeping the town's "wrong" element in line. During the series' earliest seasons, the only significant female character was middle-aged storekeeper Hattie Denton (Hope Summers), who adopted a maternal attitude toward Lucas and Marc. By the third season, the producers decided to hype the ratings by providing a younger feminine interest, and thus Joan Taylor was introduced as new storekeeper Miss Milly Scott, a cute combination of feistiness and vulnerability. Though Milly and Lucas became close friends, no romantic sparks ever flew. Halfway through Season Five, Milly left the show, whereupon the "sex appeal" was provided by Miss Lou Mallory (Patricia Blair), an earthier, more self-reliant character. Something of larcenous variation of Gunsmoke's Miss Kitty, the entreprenureal Lou ran the local hotel, using the profits--and her own wiles--to buy up practically all the other property in town. She was, however, never able to get her well-manacured fingers on Lucas' ranch, and the two characters enjoyed a kind of friendly enmity. Lasting 168 half-hour episodes, The Rifleman came to the end of its ABC trail on July 1, 1963.