Bat Masterson debuted on NBC with “Double Showdown” on October 8, 1958, and was a later iteration in a series of Western programs featuring somewhat sophisticated heroes who relied as heavily on their wits as their six shooters.2 Notable predecessors of this variant include Have Gun Will Travel and Maverick, which placed numbers three and six respectively in the 1958-59 ratings – a year in which the top ten had a total of seven Westerns.3 Nevertheless, in its quest to distinguish itself, Bat Masterson pushed the debonaire hero trend to its limit, prompting TV Guide to label Masterson “The Dandiest Gun in the West” and provoking an ambivalent response from New York Times television critic John P. Shanley, who opined, “There is no conceivable reason for another Western on television. But since Bat Masterson has now arrived, it should be noted that he has a certain amount of originality on his side.”4 It never cracked the yearly top twenty-five in its three-year run, but its influence on later television was in its Genes. Lead Gene Barry went on to star in Burke’s Law, a contemporary police drama in which he played another dapper do-gooder. Writer Gene Roddenberry would go on to create Star Trek.
The show was initially sponsored by Kraft and was scheduled on Wednesdays at 9:30 EST, after Milton Berle Starring in The Kraft Music Hall; they replaced the Kraft Television Theater drama anthology. This peculiar mix extended throughout NBC’s Wednesday prime-time schedule, which led-off with Wagon Train, followed by The Price Is Right, followed by the Kraft shows, and concluded with This Is Your Life.5 Eventually, Bat Masterson moved to Thursdays, which NBC scheduled with Western stablemates such as Law of the Plains and The Outlaws, country-western variety in The Ford Show Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford, contemporary law and order action like Johnny Staccato and The Lawless Years, as well as the situation comedy Bachelor Father and game show You Bet Your Life.6 The show’s network run ended September 21, 1961.