‘The Rifleman’: Actor Chuck Connors Went Door to Door Polling Viewers on Show

by Katie Maloney

What do you do when your show is about to be canceled? You go door-to-door and get people interested again. That’s what The Rifleman star, Chuck Connors did in 1961.

For its first two seasons, The Rifleman couldn’t be stopped. Audiences were enthralled by the adventures of wild west rancher Lucas McCain and his customized rapid-fire Winchester rifle. But during its third season, the network started switching the show’s air time and ratings plummeted. During an interview in 1961, actor Chuck Connors, who played Lucas McCain on the show talked about the show’s new time slot.

“We didn’t have much of a lead-in,” said Connors. Bugs Bunny, which preceded us, was supposed to be a world-beater. It wasn’t.”

Chuck Connors Decided To Save The Show

Connors added that he believed the show could last for six seasons but that the fourth was a crucial season for determining the show’s future. So, in order to save The Rifleman (and keep his job) Connors took matters into his own hands. He decided to go door-to-door and ask the public how the show could improve.

“I first went into the neighborhoods and rang doorbells,” said Connors. “Then I would go downtown and hand out questionnaires in crowds. I contacted 1,200 people in all.”

So, what did Connors conclude after his research?

“What did I find out?” asked Connors. “That the concept of The Rifleman is sound. I asked if people wanted any changes. Most of them said to leave it as it is. I asked if they wanted Lucas McCain to marry. They said no.”

Thanks perhaps in part to Chuck Connors’s investigative work, the show did go on to air for two more seasons, for a total of five seasons. It was also nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards.

Chuck Connors Thought It Was Time For His Character To Find Love So He Wrote This Episode Of The Rifleman

A few years before Chuck Connors took his poll for the show, he decided to write an episode of The Rifleman. Connors’s character, Lucas McCain was a widower and dedicated father. So, between taking care of his kid and battling bad guys in the wild west, McCain didn’t have a whole lot of time to date. Nevertheless, during the second season, Connors decided that it was time for his character to find some love – even if just for one episode. So, he wrote an entire episode himself.

“The Visitor,” was the 18th episode of the second season. The show featured Ann Dodd, a friend of McCain’s late wife. During the episode, Ann visits North Folk on her way to her uncle’s estate in Albuquerque. She is going to collect an inheritance from her uncle who recently passed. While there, Ann meets Lucas and the two immediately connect. Together, they discover that Ann’s uncle and his wife plan to kill her in order to collect her uncle’s estate. So, Lucas sets out to save her.

Obviously, he’s successful and the two share a few heartfelt kisses. Lucas asks Ann to return to North Fork when all her affairs are settled. But Ann declines. She says that she could never replace Lucas’s wife and that his son would never accept her. So, the two reluctantly part ways – which, according to Connors audience poll a few years later, was a good thing. The people he surveyed about The Rifleman said they didn’t want to see rough and rugged man Lucas McCain get married.

Nevertheless, we hope Lucas McCain is somewhere out there in the western tv show ether, happily married and living on a ranch in the wild west with his beloved Winchester rifle.