Chuck Connors went door-to-door around America to get feedback on The Rifleman
Can you imagine a TV star ringing your doorbell in St. Louis?
In the fall of 1961, The Rifleman was entering its fourth season, but the show's future was not so certain. The network had kicked the show around to different time slots over the prior year. ABC booted the Western from its cozy, successful Saturday night home after season two, moving The Rifleman to Tuesday evenings following The Bugs Bunny Show. The show's star, Chuck Connors, was not exactly a big fan of the cartoon rabbit afterward.
"We didn't have much of a lead-in," Connors told the Associated Press in 1961. "Bugs Bunny, which preceded us, was supposed to be a world-beater. It wasn't."
Thus, Lucas and Mark McCain were on the move once again for season four. Now, The Rifleman was following the likeminded Cheyenne on Mondays. All that schedule hopping can spell death for a series, so Connor undertook an action that seems unthinkable today. He personally traveled around the country to promote the show and get feedback from fans.
The Rifleman himself literally knocked on doors to talk to viewers.
The preseason P.R. tour took the actor eastward to St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, D.C., and New York.
"I first went into the neighborhoods and rang doorbells," Connors explained to the AP. Can you imagine? The bell chimes and the folks at home assume it's the Fuller Brush man or some other wandering salesperson. The door swings open and… it's Lucas McCain! It's a wonder people didn't faint.
"Then I would go downtown and hand out questionnaires in crowds," Connors added. The Rifleman on the street, polling TV viewers! Talk about dedication to his show. Connors estimated that he talked to approximately 1,200 people.
"I asked if they wanted any changes," Connors said. "Most of them said to leave it as it is."
He also surveyed fans on Lucas' love life. He asked if the Rifleman should marry. The answer?
"They said no," Connors succinctly noted.