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The Gospel Bill Show is a Christian Western live-action show produced from 1981-93note  set in The Wild West; specifically a Southwest Territory (in what's now Oklahoma) in a town named Dry Gulch (because when the town was incorporated, voted it as a "dry" city - as in, not allowing alcohol sales).

Most of the episodes focus on the town's sheriff, known as Gospel Bill (played by series creator Willie George), giving moral advice to a character and/or stopping a plot by one of the villians. The other principal characters are Nicodemus, Gospel Bill's best friend, foreman of the Flying Frog Ranch and frequent sidekick; Miss Lana, the matronly owner of the town's general store/telegraph office; Elmer Barnes, a fishing-obsessed and implied to be somewhat mentally handicapped citizen fond of his fishing worms Inky and Dinky, and T.U. Tutwater, president of the Dry Gulch Bank and Trust and the town's mayor, whose greed tends to be a point of conflict in several episodesnote . Recurring characters include the series' primary villain, Luther Bedlow (played by Willie George but credited "As Himself"); Orville Cornpone (Rodney Lynch), who starts as Bedlow's dim-witted henchman prior to his Heel–Faith Turn, after which he works for Mr. Tutwater; Ferman Farnsworth (played by Willie George; though the credits alternate between crediting George for the role and an "As Himself" credit), Nicodemus' ornery boss and owner of the Flying Frog Ranch; Miss Trudi Lou, an employee at the Sagebrush Diner (and heavily-implied Lethal Chef) who is the series' only other prominent female character and the object of Nicodemus' affections (incidentally her actress Trudi Blount and Nicodemus' portrayer Ken Blount are married in real-life); Barkimeus, an anthropomorphic dog character (played by Keith Holey in a dog costume) who was a principal in the show's early run but phased out by 1986; the Dough Belly Boys (a trio of overweight, rather dense minor villains played by Ken Blount, Jeff Merrill and Rodney Lynch in which the Running Gag is their trying to find Dry Gulch even as they're in the town), and Johnny Bob MacElroy (Blaine Bartel), a minor character mainly known as The Prankster.

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Typical episodes focus on Gospel Bill either dispensing advice to a town member facing some point of crisis and/or stopping a villainous plot. They are usually broken up by puppet segments set in The Present Day (with most characters voiced by Willie George) featuring a kid character named Oogene. He hosts a segment titled "At the Zoo" (occasionally "At the Farm") with Oogene" where Oogene is at a zoo or farm. Frequently (though less common in later seasons) another segment shows Oogene at home with his sister Jeannie Mae in a story related to the main story's moral; alternatively Biblical stories depicted with puppet characters appear. Less common are segments involving a coded message via smoke signals from a Native American {presumably Cherokee given the location} chief named Chief Nowanasinnote ). Most episodes end with Gospel Bill or Nicodemus Breaking the Fourth Wall to summarize the lesson of the story and, often, give an evangelistic invitation. Typically, this segment is interrupted or preceded by a music video of a Christian-themed original song (again, usually by Ken Blount).

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In 1989, the show was slightly Retooled as Adventures in Dry Gulch. Often these episodes have Gospel Bill "out of town" for unknown tasks (by this time, in addition to traveling for children's ministry seminars Willie George was pastoring Tulsa's "Church on the Move"), with Nicodemus often left in charge. Near the end of the series' run outdoor scenes were shot at the Dry Gulch, U.S.A. summer camp for a more realistic look.

The series produced a number of spinoffs, successor series and a Direct to Video film trilogy. Among them are:

  • The Candy Store: A pre-school oriented video featuring Miss Lana, Nicodemus and a new character named Lefty Wright (played by Jim Wideman)
  • Bill Gunter, U.S. Marshal (later The Cimarron Trail note ): A less campy off-shoot in which Gospel Bill is now named Bill Gunter and has by this point become a U.S. Marshal with Nicodemus and Elmer Barnes as his deputies.
  • The "Wichita Slim trilogy", featuring most of the same cast plus a part-Cherokee U.S. Marshal known as Wichita Slim {played by televangelist and mutual friend Kenneth Copeland}, a former gunslinger prior to his Heel–Faith Turn introduced in the 1986 episode "The New Man"):
    • 1991's "The Gunslinger"
    • 1994's "Covenant Rider" (in which Bill's nephew was kidnapped by associates of this film's Big Bad Saul Gillespenote )
    • 1995's "The Treasure of Eagle Mountain" (involving a hidden treasure left by a retired lawman who had just been shot, the efforts to find it and an attempt to convince his embittered son to reconcile with his father)note 

Additionally Church on the Move produced a teen-oriented series called "Fire By Nite" with most of the same crew and cast.


Tropes:

  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: Nicodemus gets hit with this in one of the first instances where he was left in charge after Gospel Bill had to go out of town to pick up an outlaw, with the authority quickly going to his head until he gets taken hostage. Fortunately for him, Gospel Bill quickly arrives to the rescue. Later episodes with Nicodemus in a similar situation show him doing a much better job of handling authority.
  • Adventure Towns: Not Dry Gulch but nearby town Dripping Springs (unlike Dry Gulch, this town's name indicates its status as a "wet" city; or a town where alcohol is served).
  • An Aesop: Usually delivered by either Gospel Bill or Nicodemus near the end of the episode.
  • Anachronism Stew: Occasional references to technology that would arrive long after the Wild West setting (such as answering machines) are seen in episodes. (This isn't counting the Oogene and music video segments, which are firmly set in The Present Day.)
  • Bad to the Last Drop: Gospel Bill's less-than-drinkable coffee is one of the series' main running gags.
  • The Barber: Lefty Wright, a character introduced in later Dry Gulch productions.
  • Big Bad: For the series proper; Luther Bedlow serves as the primary antagonist.
  • The Blacksmith: A minor character in the series serves as this.
  • Book Dumb: The episode focusing on a burglar and escape artist known as "The Great Morducci" has Nicodemus stuck on a math problem for his correspondence school lessons. The math problem:2 plus 4 equals....
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The Wichita Slim trilogy and the Cimarron Trail videos are more dramatic than the lighthearted and campy original series.
  • Character as Himself: With Willie George's characters besides Gospel Bill. While main villain Luther Bedlow always fits the trope, Ferman Farnsworth (Nicodemus' boss) is sometimes credited as himself or by Willie George, usually based on how he treated Nicodemus in the episode.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: What happened when Barkimeus was dropped in 1986.
  • Comically Missing the Point: A good chunk of the series' humor, especially in regards to Elmer Barnes.
    • This exchange between Mr. Tutwater and Nicodemus in "God Gives Back" (in which Tutwater was attempting to convince Nicodemus to convince Miss Lana to sell half the store to him; with the ultimate goal of pushing her out altogether in a hostile takeover)
    T.U. Tutwater: "Nicodemus, I have got a dream. I have got a vision."
    Nicodemus: "You know that happens to me every time I eat pizza after 11:00 at night. Now, the other night..." (Tutwater cuts him off)
  • Cowboy: Nicodemus works as the foreman of the Flying Frog Ranch.
  • Frontier Doctor: Never consistently depicted; only appearing when a main character is sick or wounded. Usually played either by Rodney Lynch or John Witty.
  • Gambling Brawl: "The Gunslinger" has one break out when a card peeks out from one player's sleeve to confirm his cheating. Worth noting is that this took place in the middle of a separate Bar Brawl started a few minutes earlier.
  • George Jetson Job Security: Nicodemus would be fired from the Flying Frog Ranch on several occasions, usually for minor infractions or other strange reasons, including one episode where Ferman Farnsworth dumps Nicodemus in order to give his foreman job to his completely unqualified, city slicker nephew from back East.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: In the movie trilogy, Gospel Bill is the By-the-Book Cop while Wichita Slim is the more unrestrained Cowboy Cop.
  • Goofy Suit: Barkimeus was represented in this manner.
  • The Gunslinger: Wichita Slim is the primary example.
  • Heel–Faith Turn: We see examples of this on several occasions, among them Orville Cornpone and Wichita Slim. In addition, both Gospel Bill and Nicodemus have this as part of their backstory.
  • Long Runner: The series ran from 1981-93; with spinoff series taking the series well into the 2nd half of The '90s.
  • Malaproper: A recurring trail of Elmer Barnes.
  • Mean Boss: Ferman Farnsworth (to Nicodemus) and T.U. Tutwater (to Orville Cornpone) often fill this role.
  • Meaningful Name: Villains Luther Bedlow, Orville Cornpone and The Dough Belly Boys each have these type of names.
  • The Moral Substitute: Serves as this to other Western series, though produced at a period where the genre was not commonly seen outside of reruns.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: T.U. Tutwater is a mildly subverted example in that Tutwater usually will avoid involvement in any morally questionable or corrupt means in pursuing his money.
  • New Season, New Name: The 1989 and 1990 episodes saw the series temporarily renamed "Adventures in Dry Gulch" before reverting to the Gospel Bill Show name near the end of its run.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Tutwater (who in addition to running the town bank is also the Mayor of Dry Gulch) often fills this trope in attempts to block pay increases for Gospel Bill.
  • Outlaw: Primary villain Luther Bedlow.
  • Preacher Man: The pastor of the local church can be seen as a minor character, though depending on the episode Gospel Bill or Nicodemus can be seen behind the pulpit as well.
  • Punny Name: Latecomer Lefty Wright's name.
  • Rancher: Nicodemus' boss; Ferman Farnsworth.
  • Religious Bruiser: Gospel Bill, Nicodemus, Elmer Barnes and Wichita Slim all fit this trope to varying degrees.
  • The Sheriff: Gospel Bill. Later to become a U.S. Marshal.
  • Schmuck Bait: One episode has a scene (later incorporated into the intro) features prankster Johnny Bob McElroy pulling a sign marked "Do Not Pull! By Order of the Sheriff!". McElroy proceeds to do exactly that and gets doused with flour.
  • Shopkeeper: Miss Lana, owner of the general store.
  • Undertaker: In addition to being the town barber, this is Lefty Wright's other occupation.
  • Unseen Character: Elmer's pet worms Inky and Dinky.
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: In the "Treasure of Eagle Mountain" film; the son of a aged former lawman wounded earlier in the film had learned his father had left a treasure for him; and after he arrives at the location, he discovers the treasure is a Bible (the young man is not a Christian at this point); and after tossing the Bible (and getting yelled at by Wichita Slim in the process) he eventually discovers there was a letter with the buried treasure he was looking for (in the process; leading to the young man's conversion and reconciliation with his father)

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