- Is this the end of Riders in the Sky?!
—Too Slim, on too many occasions to number
Riders Radio Theater, was a Radio Drama (well, comedy/drama) performed by Riders In The Sky that aired on National Public Radio regularly from 1988 to 1995. Set as an anachronistic western melodrama, the stories follow Ranger Doug, Woody Paul, Too Slim and their compatriots as they fumble, yodel, and hero their way through misadventures and regular adventures - usually opposite the villainous A. Swinburne Slocum and his henchman Charlie.
As the show is a satirical take on actual radio melodramas, it is rather Troperiffic and the Fourth Wall takes a heavy, heavy beating. The characters all alternate between varying degrees of Genre Savvy and Genre Blindness from moment to moment depending on what best entertains, and the writing is definitely not above invoking Meta Humor.
Recorded live at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville, Tennessee and Emory Theater in Cincinnati, Ohio (The Queen City of the West), the show not only had story exposition but also featured musical guests and short comedy skits. The weekly show began in 1988 and ended in 1995, but returned in 1998 to the early 2000s as occasional specials.
Riders Radio Theater provides examples of:
- Actor Allusion: In one episode, Too Slim is introduced as "the man credited as starting the 'Paul Is Dead' rumor". Fred LaBour, who plays Too Slim, is often falsely credited as the man who started the rumor. If asked about it, he will go out of his way to specify that, although he did make-up most of the "clues" that conclude Paul McCartney is dead, he did not create the rumor itself.
- Anachronism Stew: Set in an anachronistic period where ranching, rustling and riding is still a thing but seems to sometimes cross over into modern day times as well, as if there's a special force that keeps Tumbleweed Valley rooted in the late 19th century while the rest of the world moves on, but moving between the two is seamless and doesn't seem odd to anyone. Just as an example, one story involved Slocum building a clandestine nuclear reactor in an abandoned mine.
- Brains and Brawn: Slocum and Charlie.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: "What do you say to that, soldier?" "I say POO, sir!" "You say POO?" "I SAY POO!" "POO?" "POO! I.. I said it.. I said it three times now." "That's about two times more than you.." "I HAVE A COPY OF THE SCRIPT, TOO, SIR."
- Cameo: The week's musical guest usually gets a small speaking part in the episode as well.
- Campfire Character Exploration: Episodes 7 & 8 of Meltdown on The Mesa involves Ranger Doug sitting around a campfire telling the story of how he became a Ranger.
- Card-Carrying Villain: A. Swinburne Slocum. Because, in his own words, "The Plot demands an evil man. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it."
- Catchphrase: Several, but the most obvious is Ranger Doug's "That would be the easy way, but it wouldn't be... the Cowboy Way."
- Cliffhanger: Every episode ends this way (well, except for the final episode of each arc, of course).
- Cowboy: Just about every single character, given the western setting.
- Dead Air: Parodied with the commercial for "Dead Air: The Best of Riders Radio Theater".
- Deadpan Snarker: A great many of Woody Paul's lines, despite an earnest delivery, seem to absolutely drip with irony.
- The Dragon: Charlie is this to Slocum. He's much larger, stronger, and more intimidating, but dumb as a post and needs "the Boss" to tell him what to do.
- Ending Theme: "So Long, Saddle Pals".
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Ranger Doug, provided he hasn't hit his head recently.
- Large Ham: In keeping with the radio melodrama theme, all the main characters.
- Lethal Chef: Sidemeat's biscuits are the hardest substance known to man.
- Medium Awareness: All the characters at one point or another seem to be aware of the audience, the narrator, the existence of the show's script, sometimes even interacting with them. Ranger Doug and Slocum both have explicitly taken actions because of something they heard the narrator just say.
- Power Trio: Perhaps of the Knight, Knave, and Squire variety - the trio being:
- Recursive Canon: In the "Ongoing Saga of The Cowboy Way" segments (a parody of B-Western serials), guest stars or characters making their first appearance tell Riders In The Sky that they love the radio show, implying Riders Radio Theater exists in the "Cowboy Way" universe.
- Recycled Premise: Riders Radio Theater is an audio version of Riders In The Sky's first television series: Tumbleweed Theater (minus the public domain films that played on the TV show). Many sketches that first appeared on the TV show were word-for-word brought over to Riders Radio.
- Schoolmarm: The local schoolmarm is named... wait for it... Miss Marm.
- The Good Guys Always Win: This show seems completely immune to Darker and Edgier.
- The Sheriff: Obviously, "High Sheriff" Drywall
- The Western: Self evident, and see above in Anachronism Stew.
- Trauma-Induced Amnesia: The "Phantom of the Valley" arc involves Ranger Doug losing his memory and believing himself to be a Zorro Expy after awakening in said Expy's lair.
- Waxing Lyrical: In "Curse of The Lost Goldscri Part 1":
Ranger Doug: Well Bosco, we don't try to understand 'em, we just rope, tie, and brand 'em.