The Virginian is my favorite television Western. As many reviews have said, each 75-minute episode is more like a Western movie of the week with familiar characters as well as great guest stars. This show was a cut above other TV Westerns in terms of its acting, location photography, wonderful music scores, and intelligent screenplays. For television it was a big-budget production, and it shows. And Timeless does a solid job with these sets, providing good packaging and very good picture quality.
This season has a lot of highlights, but there were also a lot of bumps along the road in the 4th season. Early in the season Roberta Shore wanted to leave the show, and so her character Betsy Garth suddenly got married and was gone. And then in the middle of the season Judge Garth, played by Lee Cobb, also left the show. Garth's first successor was a cold and hard character named Morgan Starr, who was well played by veteran actor John Dehner, but the Starr character just didn't seem right for the show and was gone by the end of the season. Finally, there were a large number of grim stories this season. Some of these are well done, but the mood shifts down a bit from the more upbeat first three seasons. A lot of these changes came about because one of the founding producers of the show, Frank Price, was promoted to the executive suites and turned over producing duties on The Virginian to Norman Macdonnell, who had previously produced Gunsmoke and other shows. Again, it's still the best Western on TV, but it's sometimes a rocky road compared to the first three seasons.
About half of the episodes I thought were good to very good, including A Little Learning, The Claim, The Awakening, Ring of Silence, Jennifer, Show Me a Hero, The Dream of Savros Karas, The Laramie Road, The Horse Fighter, Letter of theLaw, Blaze of Glory, Long Ride to Wind River, The Inchworm's Got No Wings At All, Morgan Starr, Ride A Cock Horse to Laramie Cross, and The Mark of a Man. And even the episodes I didn't care for as much often had compelling performances and interesting ideas.
The season again has some great guest stars, including a very young Kurt Russell, Susan Oliver (who also starred in the Star Trek classic The Menagerie), William Shatner, Royal Dano, James MacArther (Danno on Hawaii 50), Charles Bronson, George Kennedy, Leonard Nimoy, Leslie Nielsen, Simon Oakland, Telly Savalas, and many, many others.
And finally, the most important stars of the show stayed with it, including James Drury, who does an outstanding job in the title role, Doug McClure, who brings great humor and charm to the show as Trampas, Clu Gulager, who has some standout episodes as Sherriff Ryker this season, and Randy Boone as sensitive singing cowboy with a charming accent. Diane Roter, who plays Jennifer Sommers, also has some good episodes in her brief role on the show.
All in all, this is is still a must-see season of this classic show, and comes highly recommended. And although the changes are not all for the better, it certainly keeps the show fresh and makes you expect the unexpected. Finally, they sure don't make 'em like this anymore. The Virginian is a quality show in every way, and even the lesser episodes of The V are better than most of the stuff you'll see on TV today.