From 'Lonesome Dove' to 'Friday Night Lights' and 'Mo': Best TV shows about Texas.

"Friday Night Lights" captured modern Texas better than any other TV show in history.
"Friday Night Lights" captured modern Texas better than any other TV show in history.
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Given the oversized role played by Texans in American culture, the state has not produced that many great TV shows.


Previously in this column, for instance, I've devoted more than one column to reflections on the best books, movies, songs and food about Texas. No shortage of material there.

Coming up with a list of top TV shows about Texas proved a harder task. I received some early advice on social media, but I still would like more minds devoted to the task.

Send your nominations for Best TV Shows About Texas — and crucially, why — to I have a strong feeling the subject will come up again in this column.

Texas dramas, sitcoms, miniseries and animated shows

Best Drama Series: "Friday Night Lights" 

No other series has represented modern small-town Texas more authentically than this show that, by the way, is not really about high school football.

Oh sure, football plays a role, especially in the first seasons. Yet "Friday Night Lights" is more about the convincingly portrayed people and a fictional but irrefutably recognizable place known as Dillon, Texas.

Brilliant writing. Brilliant acting. Brilliant everything.

Special praise goes to the scouts who made the location sites in the Austin area into credible replicas of small-town West Texas.

Ross: We used to be Friday Night Lights

On a personal note, it was a blast to share our city with this show's creative crew for several years. I was lucky enough to interview a half dozen of the actors for different articles. All of them were as genuine as their TV characters.

Honorable Mention: "Halt and Catch Fire," "The Son"

Best Miniseries: "Lonesome Dove" 

Writing a truly great historical novel is a thing of exceptionally rare skill. Larry McMurtry accomplished this task with supreme grace in "Lonesome Dove," a fresh take on 19th-century cattle drives.

Bill Wittliff did a similar thing with his delectable "Devil's Backbone," a trilogy of picaresque Hill Country novels. Before that, though, Wittliff had adapted McMurtry's novel into one of the great miniseries of all time.

Miniseries were made for big, sprawling novels. Unlike ongoing TV series, they deal with a finite story horizon. Unlike movies, miniseries can capture the passage of historical time in a measured manner.

Honorable Mention: "Love & Death," "Streets of Laredo"

Best Animated Sitcom: "King of the Hill" 

In "King of the Hill," Mike Judge's sharp comic eye and ear cleave so closely to observed reality that one wants to shake the hands — or paws — of Peggy, Bobby, Hank, Luanne and their bloodhound Lady Bird.

They and the rest of the Arlen, Texas, gang are inspired embodiments of turn-of-the-century Lone Star suburbs.

More: Look in your own backyard for unexpected, authentic Texas

Peggy is often the most interesting character, but there's a bit of my late father in Hank and a tiny bit of me in Bobby. I wished that we could have watched this show's 259 episodes together.

Honorable Mention: "Beavis and Butt-Head," "Undone"

Best (Dramatic) Sitcom: "Mo" 

It could be argued that "Mo," co-created and starring Palestinian-American comic Mo Amer, is really a "comedy-drama" or "dramedy."

Given that so much of the humor, however, is derived from his titular character's situation in Houston's suburbs, let's temporarily squeeze the show into this TV category.

His is a hyper-real Texas.

"Alief is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in America; 80 languages are spoken there," Amer told NPR about the rich mix of cultures in his "urban Western." "Houston's incredible, and it's been an exporter of phenomenal artists for many years. There's something in the water there, for sure."

The heartbreaking scenes about his character's status as a refugee are hardly the usual comforting material of sitcoms, but such is the state of grown-up TV today.

Honorable Mention: "Austin Stories," "Flo," "Young Sheldon," "Primo," "Reba"

Mo Amer appears as Mo in the somewhat autobiographical series, "Mo."
Mo Amer appears as Mo in the somewhat autobiographical series, "Mo."

Texas reality shows, soap operas, action, docs

Best Reality Show: "Fixer Upper" 

Few reality shows can claim to have altered an entire city. On this home design and renovation show, Chip Gaines and Joanna Gaines have transformed the periodically underestimated Waco.

Not just because their hit HGTV show brought the hidden domestic gems of that Texas city into the homes of Americans, but because they extended their brand through fresh hotspots in downtown Waco, especially Magnolia Market.

You might remember a recent Think, Texas report on how many cool things there are to do in Waco these days. Thank Chip and Joanna.

Honorable Mention: "Top Chef" (Texas Season), "Queer Eye" (Sixth Season)

Best Soap Opera: "Dallas" 

Traveling in distant lands during the 1980s, if we told a local that we were from Texas, they'd light up and say: "Dallas!"

More: Follow in the footsteps of J.R. in Dallas

That glitzy show about a divisive Texas ranching and oil family relaunched the primetime soap opera phenomenon and thrust Big D into the global spotlight, for better or worse.

Its plausibility was easy to mock, but in fact acting in soap operas is hard — you must do a lot with a slender thread of writing — and the cast made their characters into icons.

Best Action Series: "The Lone Ranger"*

I placed an asterisk next to the title of this old Western series, which I watched as a child, because it feels pretty creaky these days. You can judge for yourself by catching episodes on YouTube and elsewhere.

The TV series bore the galloping imprint of its radio predecessor, which ran for thousands of episodes starting in 1934.

More: Texas history: New book censures ‘bold and brutal’ Texas Rangers

Still, "The Lone Ranger" stood out during a time when Westerns ruled much of TV and movies. Like many such shows set in Texas, it was actually filmed in California and Utah, which gave viewers at the time a contorted view of Texas geography.

The TV show ran from 1949 to 1957, then could be watched via various forms of syndication, etc. A masked avenger, played by different actors, survives an ambush of his fellow Texas Rangers and sets out on adventures with his Native American friend, Tonto.

Honorable Mention: "Walker, Texas Ranger"

Best Documentary Series: "Cheer" 

Who would have predicted a periodical show about the competitive cheerleaders of Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, would make a spellbinding subject for a sports documentary series?

More: Netflix's 'Cheer' is the documentary that hard-working cheerleaders have long deserved

I was hooked from the first episode. Not just by the distinct personalities, but by the echos of other Texas youth competitions that so shape our state, not always with commendable results.

For the most part, "Cheer" humanizes the college's coach, Monica Aldama, and her often troubled team.

Honorable Mention: "Rollergirls"

Best Documentary: "LBJ"

The problem with this category is that, as University of Texas professor and documentary guru Paul Stekler points out, so many outstanding documentaries about Texas have shown up on the small screen.

But did they start there? I mean, how could I leave off this list the criminal justice thriller, "The Thin Blue Line" for instance? Yet, if memory serves, it first appeared on the big screen.

More: Starring Texas: What you can learn about the state through its movies

So I went instead with two made-for-TV docs that I remember fondly, with a preference for the two-parter, "LBJ," from 1991. Shown as part of the invaluable PBS series, "The American Experience," it includes interviews with most of the major players still living at the time.

Honorable Mention: "A Walk Through the 20th Century With Bill Moyers: Marshall, Texas"

Texas TV movies, nature shows, music, procedurals

Best TV Movie: "Murder in Texas"

"All the Way," the TV movie version of Texas playwright Robert Schenkkan's award-winning play about LBJ, might really deserve the top spot here.

Yet I'm angling for "Murder in Texas," the 1981 TV movie that employs the same story — a true and creepy society tale set in Houston's tony River Oaks hood — as does Fort Worth writer Thomas Thompson's terrific 1976 book, "Blood and Money."

More: Texas history: On second thought, make that 60 essential books about our state

From what I can tell, however, the movie was not based directly on the book.

My reasons for this eccentric preference are obscure: As late as 1981, few such high-profile TV movies were set in Texas. In addition, it stars Corpus Christi native Farrah Fawcett. The role made a credible case that she was a legitimate actor, not just eye candy.

Honorable Mention: "All the Way"

Best Procedural: "Judd for the Defense"

As it followed the exploits of a high-flying Houston defense lawyer in the mold of Percy Foreman and F. Lee Bailey, this show broke ground on controversial social subjects.

The quality of its scripts attracted top-notch guest actors such as Robert Duval, Jessica Tandy, Richard Dreyfuss and Tyne Daly.

More: Duvall and Wittliff still can’t quite believe latest film got made

The other main candidate in this category, "Houston Knights," was a standard cops show nominally set in the state's biggest city. Some scenes were shot in the Houston area.

It's too bad that Houston, a place that felt like a boom-town film noir, with plenty of baroque crime, when I was growing up there, never developed a TV series in that style.

Honorable Mention: "Houston Knights"

Best Music Show: "Austin City Limits" 

Really not much of a contest here. From the pilot concert that starred Willie Nelson in 1974, "Austin City Limits" has helped define the music and culture of Austin as well as that of Texas and the U.S.

More: Brandi Carlile kicks off 'historic' 'Austin City Limits' season that spotlights women

Best Nature Series: "Texas Parks and Wildlife"

I do love a good nature show. The best one from our state, as far as I'm concerned, is "Texas Parks and Wildlife." The series comes from, you guessed it, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Some readers nominated the beautiful doc, "Deep in the Heart: A Texas Wildlife Story," narrated by Matthew McConaughey, for this category, but it was first presented as a film.

Best Texas TV that are 'none of the above'

Best None of the Above: "The Eyes of Texas"

The three deserving candidates in this category are all Texas-rooted series that explore the culture and history of the entire state.

Hosted by Houston broadcasters Ray Miller, Ron Stone and others, "The Eyes of Texas," which aired from 1969 to 1999, not only visited off-the-beaten-track sites around the state, it explained Texas history in the context of current events. Six published travel guides came out of the series.

More recently, I've cottoned to "The Daytripper," and have naturally crossed paths with its producer and star, Chet Garner.

Honorable Mention: "The Daytripper," "Texas Country Reporter"

Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at Sign up for the free weekly digital newsletter, Think, Texas, at, or the newsletters page of your local USA Today paper.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: 'Lonesome Dove' and 'Friday Night Lights' 2 top TV shows about Texas