'Ned Blessing' heralds the return of the western

August 18, 1993|By Bob Wisehart | Bob Wisehart,McClatchy News Service

After years of talk and not much action, the western is finally galloping back to the airwaves.

It begins with "Ned Blessing: The Story of My Life and Times" tonight at 9 on CBS (WBAL-Channel 11), followed by another Western, "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.," premiering Aug. 27 on the Fox network (WBFF-Channel 45).

If "Brisco County" is tongue-in-cheek -- and believe me, it is -- "Ned Blessing" is anything but. This one is about as sincere as it gets.

We meet Blessing (Brad Johnson) as an older man in a jail cell awaiting his own hanging. To pass the time, he's writing his memoirs to explain how a gent once known as "the boy bandit" became the sheriff of a little town named Plum Creek in Texas.

Headed back to his hometown after a long absence, Blessing discovers that Plum Creek has been taken over by the lowdown, rotten Borgers family, who murdered the sheriff and displayed his head in a pickle jar as a warning to the rest of the town.

All this does is make Blessing mad.

Fortunately, he has some help, including a cowardly cowboy named Sticks (Tim Scott), who finds his backbone when Blessing shows up, and One Horse, a mysterious American Indian played by Wes Studi, the magnetic actor who played Magua in "The Last of the Mohicans."

"Ned Blessing" comes from Bill Whitliff, who wrote the script that turned "Lonesome Dove" into a fabulously successful miniseries for CBS.

Mr. Whitliff deals in big themes. As a result, "Ned Blessing" has a little too much philosophizing about bravery, death and whatnot. There are times when it comes perilously close to the cliche about how a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

But if "Ned Blessing" sometimes tries too hard, trying too hard is a lot better than not trying at all. It can be accused of a lot of things, but never simple-mindedness. This is a solid TV movie that could be an interesting series.

"Ned Blessing" is unusual for a couple of other reasons. As a summer series, it's going on the air only a few days before some of the early fall shows begin. If it proves popular, "Ned Blessing" probably will replace one of the flops of fall.

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