Rawhide, which premiered in 1959, had several virtues that Gunsmoke lacked.
More than anything else, Gunsmoke was about family and the need for order and rough justice in the lawless West. The world inhabited by Matt Dillon and his friends was mostly confined to a few sets.
Rawhide, on the other hand, was about a lot of cows and a handful of guys who slept under the stars. It was about getting from Point A to Point B and little else. The Sedalia Trail was a far different world than the cramped streets of Dodge, and where Gunsmoke was about authority, Rawhide was about freedom.
These days, of course, Rawhide is about the young Clint Eastwood. Who in their right minds could have ever imagined that that skinny good-looking kid would eventually go on to become one of the most important players in the history of the movies?
Still, there’s a glimmer here and there. Eastwood, as Rowdy Yates, was second in billing and had far fewer scenes than trail boss Gil Favor (Eric Fleming), but Fleming sorely lacked charisma, which actually worked in the show’s, and Eastwood’s, favor. It’s also interesting that Yates was sexier than almost any character that Eastwood would ever play again. Sometimes it feels as though there’s a lot of Elvis in Rowdy Yates.
Rawhide has one distinction that sets it apart from the majority of TV Westerns from that era—the show has not only aged well, it’s gotten better over time. Sure, you’ll see some hambone performances, but the series is mostly honest and lean and laid back. It worked then, and it works just as well, or even better, now.