Within the structural constraints of the one-hour episodic format and the dramatic conventions of the "Western" genre Bishop still managed to be a standout. He created very distinctive characters whose underlying complexity was progressively revealed in novel plots with tight structure and provocative themes that went well beyond the rather formulaic, mechanical mediocrity that met the "it's good enough for TV" standard that was (and still is) all too common.
I give especially high marks to Mr. Bishop as a writer of dialogue. In both casual conversation and confrontational exchanges his characters generally have an authentic voice of their own. Their words, sentence constructions, and turns of phrase are always colorful, often very uniquely couched, and seem to be resonant with what we might imagine the idioms of that era and place.
What is so nice about this particular strength of Ron Bishop's writing is not some show-off-ish, look-at-me-write self indulgence of the writer. To the contrary, Bishop's talent for creating great characters, interesting plots and really tasty dialogue provided some of the period's best and mostly underrated, underused actors with opportunities to show what they could do -- just how good they could be if given the chance to carry some weight.
To see what I am talking about, check out any of the following when their series is available in syndication. In Kung Fu's "The Soul Is The Warrior", for example, the inimitable John Doucette really steps up and hits one out of the park, displaying an ability to project gravitas and nuance that most who are only familiar with his more usual second-string roles as a "heavy" would hardly expect of him. Even the lesser characters in this episode are sharply defined and given some good lines and scenes.
Don't miss 'em episodes of Gunsmoke abound. "A Hat" features Chill Wills and Gene Evans in standout performances. "A Town In Chains" with Ramon Bieri and Lance LeGault(among several others)is just a sweet piece of work all round. Ditto for "Whelan's Men," "Mannon", "Matt's Love Story", and "Slocum". These illustrate Bishop's obviously high standards for himself as a writer and his consistent ability to deliver at that high level.
Unfortunately, I was not a regular viewer of the shows that Bishop wrote for in his most productive years as a TV writer. Much of his other work, beyond the Gunsmoke years and the Kung Fu episode, are not something I can reference with any familiarity. However, I will still say with some considerable degree of confidence that those other shows bear watching if you like good writing with a distinctive voice and style.
I have done some Internet searching for references to Ron Bishop and would recommend you fire up your favorite search engine to find out a little more about his background, career, accomplishments and peer recognition.
Although detailed information is sadly rather scant, I'll note that he was the recipient of several awards as a "Western" writer. Perhaps even more telling is that he was given a special recognition in the credits for one of the Gunsmoke movie credits. My guess, knowing of James Arness' personal involvement and keen interest in the production side of the venerable Gunsmoke series, is that Arness knew just how lucky he was to have a talent and a sensibility like Ron Bishop providing above-and-beyond-the-herd, top notch material for so many episodes. Likewise, for all those actors who Mr. Bishop's work meant a chance to exhibit their own talents to best effect, I am sure Ron Bishop was a man that they often thought of with great fondness and appreciation.
I never met the guy. He was probably already gone before I even knew his name or saw much of his creative output. Still, I'm glad I finally took this opportunity to give the man a little of his due.
Well done, Ron. Well done...
[submitted by RDR under the "borrowed" logon of Branfred Level 9. Thanks BL9]moreless