THE LONE RANGER (1949)
Created in 1933 for the radio by WXYZ (now WXYT) owner Georg W. Trendle and writer Fran Striker, The Lone Ranger was a masked cowboy vigilante. He began as a Texas Ranger named John Reid (Earle Graser until his death, Brace Beemer for the remainder, and several fill-ins), the sole survivor of an ambush on him and five of his fellow Rangers by a gang led by a man named Bartholomew “Butch” Cavendish (Bill Saunders). He was found and nursed to health by Native American Tonto (John Todd). Reid adopted the guise of the Lone Ranger to bring Cavendish to justice with Tonto and his trusty horse, Silver, by his side, and to continue to protect the west. As the Ranger was never identified as such verbally, those he helped were often left to ponder “Who was that masked man, anyway?” at the end of each episode. The show proved immensely popular, running until 1956 and spawning two Republic serials and books largely written by Striker. In 1949, Trendle brought the series to television with Clayton Moore in the title role and Jay Silverheels as Tonto.
The Lone Ranger debuted on the fledgling ABC, who bought WXYZ in 1946, on September 15, 1949. Like the radio show, it used the ending of the “William Tell Overture” by Gioachino Rossini as its theme, which has become synonymous with the franchise as a result. 78 episodes were filmed and aired for 78 weeks, then rerun all-over again for another year. It became the first hit for the network, earning an Emmy nomination in 1950. For the next batch of 52 episodes, Moore was fired over a contractual dispute and replaced with John Hart. It was believed that the mask would hide the change and keep the audience invested, but he was disliked in the role and his episodes weren’t aired again until the 1980s. In 1954, Trendle sold the rights to Jack Wrather who produced another 52 episodes after promptly hiring back Moore. For the final season, only 39 episodes were produced, as that had become the industry standard, and Wrather fronted the money to produce them in color despite ABC still broadcasting in black and white. Wrather decided to skip dealing with the network and went on to produce two theatrical films, while ABC kept the show in daytime reruns for years.