Texas is the second largest state in our nation in both size and population. It is rich in history, landscape and cities. There is no shortage of stories to tell that take place in the Lone Star State. That being said, the television biz does not often set series in Texas.
The shows that do take place down in Texas typically center around cowboys, oil tycoons, football and family. Certainly there are outliers, even recently, as acclaimed shows like Preacher and Halt and Catch Fire have shown wildly different sides of the Southwest. Here and there, the rare legal drama or cop show has called Houston or Dallas home. Even the Alice spin-off Flo took its folky humor to Cowtown, Texas.
While many classic cowboy characters came from Texas, a surprising few series took place entirely in the state. We looked back at the entire history of TV to pick 10 favorite shows set in Texas, selecting shows that best capture the spirit and people of the state. Being fans of vintage television, we wanted to spotlight some overlooked older gems, naturally. That being said, it's hard to top Coach Taylor.
Which Texas TV show is your favorite?
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Walker, Texas Ranger
Sometimes you just need a man in denim and a ten-gallon hat to kick some butt. Chuck Norris played the ultimate modern cowboy in this '90s action staple. The martial arts master even sung the theme song. The punch-packing procedural shot around the Dallas–Fort Worth area, and Walker's buddy and partner Jimmy Trivette was even a former Cowboys player. From Walker's Dodge Ram to his belt buckles, the show tried to be as Texas as possible, and that's why audiences ate it up.
Image: CBS Television Distribution
Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights is about so much more than football. You could argue it's not about football at all. As Eric and Julie Tayler, the fantastic Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton gave one of the most realistic, evolving depictions of marriage ever seen on TV. Meanwhile, the younger stars perfectly captured the pains, dreams and joys of growing up in a small town. Creator and occassional director Peter Berg imbued it with his Americana documentary style. "Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose." That might be the only TV catchphrase that can rightfully serve as a life mantra.
Image: NBCUniversal Television Distribution
Of course, we would be remiss if we did not put the Ewing saga high on the list. The mystery of "Who shot J.R.?" became a national craze in 1980, after the cliffhanger in the season three finale. As in all great soaps, the lines between heroes and villains blurred, as we love-hate / hate-loved every single character. The glamorous drama, one of the first American series aired over the Iron Curtain, is even credited with helping end the totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania. When the show returned to the airwaves in 2012, few complained. And people loathe reboots.
Image: Warner Bros. Television
Few shows have so proudly displayed their setting. This diamond of a rough and tumble early Western opened with a map of Texas and the fluttering flag of the Texas Rangers. Robert Culp starred as Ranger Hoby Gilman, the pioneer of the "cool cowboy." Speaking of cool, Trackdown gave Steve McQueen his big break, as the show spun off his bounty hunter character Josh Randall into Wanted: Dead or Alive. In its tight, cracking scripts, Trackdown delved into philosophical issues typical of shows like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek.
King of the Hill
Few comic minds have examined Texas with loving satire like Mike Judge. His cult film Office Space took place in Texas, as well as bits of Beavis and Butthead, we assume. That being said, his ultimate self-reflective love letter to the state was King of Hill. The animated sitcom's fiction town of Arlen was based on Judge's former hometown Garland and the nearby Dallas suburb of Richardson. Judge, and his show, had a knack for finding humor in every walk of life in Texas, without ever mocking. It's as sweet as it is gut-busting.
Yep, more Rangers. However, unlike Trackdown and Walker, Laredo approached the cowboy with a comedic angle. The camaraderie of the lead characters — played by the elder Neville Brand, William Smith and the heartthrob Peter Brown — brought to mind the Three Musketeers. It was a lively romp along the Rio Grande.
Image: NBCUniversal Television Distribution
She may have her roots in Oklahoma and Tennessee, but country superstar Reba McEntire helped craft arguably the greatest live-action sitcom set in Texas. The chronicles of a divorced mother in Houston, Reba was a comedic workhorse for the WB and CW networks. Though a traditional sitcom, Reba reached into the same territory as Friday Night Lights, with the trials of failed young football star Van.
Image: 20th Television
Judd, For the Defense
Now we get into some deeper cuts. For eight seasons, Carl Betz had played Donna Reed's handsome, all-American husband Alex Stone on The Donna Reed Show. In 1967, he took a dramatic turn in this lead role, going from Midwestern doctor to bold Southern lawyer Clinton Judd, who was somewhat based on F. Lee Bailey. The series struggled in ratings, largely because it boldly tackled issues of the day, from draft dodging to one man's fall from grace due to a computer error. It was simply ahead of its time.
Image: 20th Television
At its essence, Houston Knights, which premiered in 1987, was a spin on Starsky and Hutch, right down to the cool car and Huggy Bear–like character "Chicken." That being said, it was an expertly crafted and acted take on the mismatched buddy cop genre, with Michael Paré and Michael Beck charming audiences in the lead role. The show also featured some scenic locations around Houston, right down to the Astrodome, which can be seen in the opening credits.
Image: Sony Pictures Television
A blend of Western and Perry Mason, Temple Houston was based on the real-life lawyer Temple Lea Houston, son of Sam Houston. The pilot film, The Man from Galveston, was released theatrically, though star Jeffrey Hunter was the only actor to appear in both the big screen and the small screen versions. The wonderful character actor Jack Elam got a regular role here, playing second fiddle to Hunter. We were torn between this overlooked 1963 series and Buffalo Bill, Jr. for the final spot, but how could we pass up a show that used "The Yellow Rose of Texas" as its theme?
Image: Sam Houston Memorial Museum