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Gunsmoke is an American radio and television Western drama series created by director Norman Macdonnell and writer John Meston. The stories take place in and around Dodge City, Kansas, during the settlement of the American West. The central character is lawman Marshal Matt Dillon, played by William Conrad on radio and James Arness on television. When aired in the United Kingdom, the television series was initially titled Gun Law, later reverting to Gunsmoke.
The radio series ran from 1952 to 1961. John Dunning wrote that among radio drama enthusiasts, "Gunsmoke is routinely placed among the best shows of any kind and any time." The television series ran for 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975, and lasted for 635 episodes. At the end of its run in 1975, Los Angeles Times columnist Cecil Smith wrote: "Gunsmoke was the dramatization of the American epic legend of the west. Our own Iliad and Odyssey, created from standard elements of the dime novel and the pulp Western as romanticized by [Ned] Buntline, [Bret] Harte, and [Mark] Twain. It was ever the stuff of legend."
Publicity photo from Gunsmokes radio version (photo from 1954)
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Created by||Norman Macdonnell|
|Produced by||Norman Macdonnell|
|Original release||April 26, 1952 - June 18, 1961|
|No. of series||9|
|No. of episodes||480|
In the late 1940s, CBS chairman William S. Paley, a fan of the Philip Marlowe radio serial, asked his programming chief, Hubell Robinson, to develop a hardboiled Western series, a show about a "Philip Marlowe of the Old West". Robinson instructed his West Coast CBS Vice President, Harry Ackerman, who had developed the Philip Marlowe series, to take on the task.
Ackerman and his scriptwriters, Mort Fine and David Friedkin, created an audition script called "Matt Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" based on one of their Michael Shayne radio scripts, "The Case of the Crooked Wheel" from the summer of 1948. Two versions were recorded. The first, recorded in June 1949, was very much like a hardboiled detective series and starred Michael Rye (credited as Rye Billsbury) as Dillon; the second, recorded in July 1949, starred Straight Arrow actor Howard Culver in a more Western, lighter version of the same script. CBS liked the Culver version better, and Ackerman was told to proceed.
A complication arose, though; Culver's contract as the star of Straight Arrow would not allow him to do another Western series. The project was shelved for three years, when producer Norman Macdonnell and writer John Meston discovered it while creating an adult Western series of their own.
Macdonnell and Meston wanted to create a radio Western for adults, in contrast to the prevailing juvenile fare such as The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid. Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City, Kansas, during the thriving cattle days of the 1870s. Dunning notes, "The show drew critical acclaim for unprecedented realism."
The radio series first aired on CBS on April 26, 1952 with the episode "Billy the Kid", written by Walter Newman, and ended on June 18, 1961. The show stars William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon, Howard McNear as Doc Charles Adams, Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell, and Parley Baer as Dillon's assistant, Chester Wesley Proudfoot.
Matt Dillon was played on radio by William Conrad and on TV by James Arness. Two versions of the same pilot episode titled "Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" are in the archives with two different actors, Rye Billsbury and Howard Culver, playing Marshal "Mark" Dillon as the lead, not yet played by Conrad. Conrad was one of the last actors to audition for the role of Marshal Dillon. With a resonantly powerful and distinctive voice, Conrad was already one of radio's busiest actors. Though Meston championed him, Macdonnell thought Conrad might be overexposed. During his audition, however, Conrad won over Macdonnell after reading only a few lines. Dillon, as portrayed by Conrad, was a lonely, isolated man, toughened by a hard life. Macdonnell later claimed, "Much of Matt Dillon's character grew out of Bill Conrad."
Meston relished the upending of cherished Western fiction clichés and felt that few Westerns gave any inkling of how brutal the Old West was in reality. Many episodes were based on man's cruelty to man and woman, inasmuch as the prairie woman's life and the painful treatment of women as chattels were touched on well ahead of their time in most media. As originally pitched to CBS executives, this was to be an adult Western, not a grown-up Hopalong Cassidy.
Dunning writes that Meston was especially disgusted by the archetypal Western hero and set out "to destroy [that type of] character he loathed". In Meston's view, "Dillon was almost as scarred as the homicidal psychopaths who drifted into Dodge from all directions."
Chester was played by Parley Baer on radio, and by Dennis Weaver on television. Chester's character had no surname until Baer ad libbed "Proudfoot" during an early rehearsal. Initial Gunsmoke scripts gave him no name at all; his lines were simply slugged[clarification needed] to be spoken by "Townsman". Again, Conrad's sense of what the program would be supervened, and Chester was born. Chester's middle initial was given as "W" in the June 15, 1958, episode "Old Flame", and a few episodes later, on the July 7, 1958, episode "Marshal Proudfoot", his middle name, and that of his 10 siblings, is revealed to be Wesley. The amiable Waco expatriate was usually described as Dillon's "assistant", but in the December 13, 1952, episode "Post Martin", Dillon described Chester as Dillon's deputy. Contradicting this description, in the July 5, 1954, episode "Hank Prine" (episode 116, minute 3:02) Dillon corrects a prisoner who describes Chester as his "deputy", stating "Chester is not my deputy", though they both agree Chester acts like he is. Whatever his title, Chester was Dillon's foil, friend, partner, and in an episode in which Chester nearly dies ("Never Pester Chester"), Dillon allows that Chester was the only person he could trust.
The TV series changed the newly limping Chester's last name from Proudfoot to Goode. Chester was played by Dennis Weaver, who went on to star in the NBC Mystery Movie rotating TV series entry of a police drama with a comedic touch, McCloud, in the early 1970s. Weaver, himself an impressive 6'2", often looked small alongside Arness' height at 6'7"; this could be partly due to the character Chester having a limp. Season two, episode 25 reveals that Chester was in the army. He would not have had the limp then, so probably got injured in the Civil War, not long ago, but long enough that he would have learned to live with the limp and virtually forget it.
Howard McNear starred as Dr. Charles Adams in the radio series, with Milburn Stone portraying Dr. Galen Adams in the television version. In the radio series, "Doc" Adams was initially a self-interested and somewhat dark character with a predilection for constantly attempting to increase his revenue through the procurement of autopsy fees. However, McNear's performances steadily became more warm-hearted and sympathetic. Most notably, this transformation began during (and progressed steadily following) the July 1952 episode "Never Pester Chester", in which a physician with a more compassionate and devoted temperament is essential to the plotline when Chester is near-fatally injured by two trouble-making Texas drovers.
Doc Adams' backstory evokes a varied and experienced life: In some episodes, he had educational ties to Philadelphia; in others, he spent time as ship's doctor aboard the gambling boats that plied the Mississippi River, which provided a background for his knowledge of New Orleans (and acquaintance with Mark Twain). In the January 31, 1953, episode "Cavalcade", a fuller history is offered, though subsequent programs kept close listeners' heads spinning. In "Cavalcade", his real name is Calvin Moore, educated in Boston, and he practiced as a doctor for a year in Richmond, Virginia, where he fell in love with a beautiful young woman, who was also being courted by a wealthy young man named Roger Beauregard. Beauregard forced Doc into fighting a duel with him, resulting in Beauregard's being shot and killed. Though it was a fair duel, as a Yankee and an outsider, Doc was forced to flee. The young woman fled after him and they were married in St. Louis, but two months later, she died of typhus.
Doc wandered throughout the territories until he settled in Dodge City 17 years later under the name of "Charles Adams". The Adams moniker was another Conrad invention, borrowing the surname from cartoonist Charles Addams as a testament to Doc's initially ghoulish comportment.
Kitty was played by Georgia Ellis on radio, and by Amanda Blake on TV. Georgia Ellis first appeared in the radio episode "Billy the Kid" (April 26, 1952) as "Francie Richards", a former girlfriend of Matt Dillon and the widow of a criminal. "Miss Kitty" did not appear until the May 10, 1952, episode "Jaliscoe". Kitty's profession was hinted at, but never explicit; in a 1953 interview with Time, Macdonnell declared, "Kitty is just someone Matt has to visit every once in a while". The magazine observed that she is "obviously not selling chocolate bars". An out-take from the program makes this hilariously obvious. The television show first portrayed Kitty as a saloon employee (dance-hall girl/prostitute), then from season three as half owner of the Long Branch Saloon. Sometime in 1959, Ellis was billed as Georgia Hawkins instead of Georgia Ellis.
Gunsmoke was often a somber program, particularly in its early years. Dunning writes that Dillon
"played his hand and often lost. He arrived too late to prevent a lynching. He amputated a dying man's leg and lost the patient anyway. He saved a girl from brutal rapists then found himself unable to offer her what she needed to stop her from moving into ... life as a prostitute."
Some listeners, such as Dunning, argue the radio version was more realistic. Episodes were aimed at adults and featured some of the most explicit content of their time, including violent crimes, scalpings, massacres, and opium addicts. Many episodes ended on a somber note, and villains often got away with their crimes.
Nonetheless, due to the subtle scripts and outstanding ensemble cast, over the years, the program evolved into a warm, often humorous celebration of human nature. Despite Gunsmoke's realism in some areas, the show took liberties with accuracy in others. The program was set after the arrival of the railroad in Dodge City (1872) and Kansas had been a state since 1861. A U.S. Marshal (actually a deputy marshal, only the senior officer in the district holds the title "marshal") would not be based in Dodge City and would not be involved in local law enforcement. Any peace officer, then and now, also would not approach an armed individual with his side arm holstered, and give the suspect a chance to draw.
Apart from the doleful tone, Gunsmoke was distinct from other radio Westerns, as the dialogue was often slow and halting, and due to the outstanding sound effects, listeners had a nearly palpable sense of the prairie where the show was set. The effects were subtle but multilayered, giving the show a spacious feel. John Dunning wrote, "The listener heard extraneous dialogue in the background, just above the muted shouts of kids playing in an alley. He heard noises from the next block, too, where the inevitable dog was barking."
Gunsmoke was also unique from other Westerns in that it was unsponsored in the first few years of production. The program got its support from CBS in the first two years. Series producers felt that if the show were sponsored, they would have to "clean the show up". The producers wanted to find a sponsor that would allow them to keep the show the way it was.
Not long after the radio show began, talk began of adapting it to television. Privately, Macdonnell had a guarded interest in taking the show to television, but publicly, he declared, "our show is perfect for radio," and he feared, as Dunning writes, "Gunsmoke confined by a picture could not possibly be as authentic or attentive to detail." "In the end", wrote Dunning, "CBS simply took it away from Macdonnell and began preparing for the television version."
Conrad and the others were given auditions, but they were little more than token efforts--especially in Conrad's case, due to his obesity. However, Meston was kept as the main writer. In the early years, a majority of the TV episodes were adapted from the radio scripts, often using identical scenes and dialogue. Dunning wrote, "That radio fans considered the TV show a sham and its players impostors should surprise no one. That the TV show was not a sham is due in no small part to the continued strength of Meston's scripts." 
Macdonnell and Meston continued the radio version of Gunsmoke until 1961, making it one of the most enduring vintage radio dramas.
Conrad directed two television episodes, in 1963 and 1971, while McNear appeared on six, playing characters other than Doc, including three times as storekeeper Howard Rudd.
|Based on||Gunsmoke created by|
|Developed by||Charles Marquis Warren|
|Theme music composer||Rex Koury|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||6 (Marshal Dillon, syndication retitling of half-hour episodes)|
20 (total seasons)
|No. of episodes||233 (Marshal Dillon, syndication retitling of half-hour episodes), 402 (Gunsmoke)|
635 (total episodes)
|Running time||26 minutes (1955-1961),|
50 minutes (1961-1975)
Arness and Company
The Arness Production Company
CBS Television Distribution
|Picture format||Black and white (1955-1966) |
|Original release||September 10, 1955 -|
March 31, 1975
The TV series ran from September 10, 1955, to March 31, 1975, on CBS, with 635 total episodes. It was the second Western television series written for adults, premiering on September 10, 1955, four days after The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. The first 12 seasons aired Saturdays at 10 pm, seasons 13 through 16 aired Mondays at 7:30 pm, and the last four seasons aired Mondays at 8 pm. During its second season in 1956, the program joined the list of the top-10 television programs broadcast in the United States. It quickly moved to number one and stayed there until 1961. It remained among the top-20 programs until 1964.
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The television series remains the longest-running, primetime, live-action series of the 20th century. As of 2017The Simpsons surpassed Gunsmoke for the most scripted episodes. Some TV fans question its position as having the longest run. Some foreign-made programs, i.e. produced outside the U.S., have been broadcast in the U.S. and contend for the position as the longest-running series.[notes 1] As of 2016 , Gunsmoke was rated fourth globally, after Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005-present), Taggart (1983-2010), and The Bill (1984-2010)., it had the highest number of scripted episodes for any U.S. primetime, commercial, live-action television series. On April 29, 2018,
James Arness and Milburn Stone portrayed their Gunsmoke characters for 20 consecutive years, a feat later matched by Kelsey Grammer as the character Frasier Crane, but over two half-hour sitcoms (Cheers and Frasier). George Walsh, the announcer for Gunsmoke, began in 1952 on radio's Gunsmoke and continued until television's Gunsmoke was cancelled in 1975. The first seven seasons were jointly sponsored by L&M cigarettes and Remington shaving products.
When Gunsmoke was adapted for television in 1955, in spite of a campaign to persuade the network, the network was not interested in bringing either Conrad or his radio costars to the television medium. Conrad's weight was rumored to be a deciding factor. Denver Pyle was also considered for the leading role, as was Raymond Burr, who was ultimately also seen as too heavy for the part. Charles Warren, television Gunsmoke's first director, said, "His voice was fine, but he was too big. When he stood up, his chair stood with him." According to Dennis Weaver's comments on the 50th Anniversary DVD, disc one, episode "Hack Prine", John Wayne was never considered for the role; to have done so would have been preposterous, since Wayne was a top movie leading man. The belief that Wayne was asked to star is disputed by Warren. Although he agrees Wayne encouraged Arness to take the role, Warren says, "I hired Jim Arness on the strength of a picture he's done for me ... I never thought for a moment of offering it to Wayne."
According to Thomas "Duke" Miller, a TV/movie/celebrity expert, this story was told to him by legendary actor James Stewart:
"Jimmy said he was in the office with Charles Warren when Mr. Wayne came in. Mr. Warren asked Wayne if he knew James Arness, and Mr. Wayne said yes. Mr. Warren told Mr. Wayne about the transition of the show from radio to TV, and Mr. Wayne readily agreed that James Arness would be a terrific choice for the part of Matt Dillon. I have no reason to doubt the story, because Jimmy absolutely knew everybody."
In the end, the primary roles were all recast, with Arness taking the lead role of Marshal Matt Dillon (on the recommendation of Wayne, who also introduced the pilot), Dennis Weaver playing Chester Goode, Milburn Stone being cast as Dr. G. "Doc" Adams (later Galen "Doc" Adams), and Amanda Blake taking on the role of Miss Kitty Russell. Macdonnell became the associate producer of the TV show and later the producer. Meston was named head writer.
Good evening. My name's Wayne. Some of you may have seen me before; I hope so. I've been kicking around Hollywood a long time. I've made a lot of pictures out here, all kinds, and some of them have been Westerns. And that's what I'm here to tell you about tonight: a Western--a new television show called Gunsmoke. No, I'm not in it. I wish I were, though, because I think it's the best thing of its kind that's come along, and I hope you'll agree with me; it's honest, it's adult, it's realistic. When I first heard about the show Gunsmoke, I knew there was only one man to play in it: James Arness. He's a young fellow, and maybe new to some of you, but I've worked with him and I predict he'll be a big star, so you might as well get used to him, like you've had to get used to me! And now I'm proud to present my friend Jim Arness in Gunsmoke.-- John Wayne, first Gunsmoke TV episode, "Matt Gets It".
Chester and Festus Haggen are perhaps Dillon's most recognizable sidekicks, though others became acting deputies for - to -year stints: Quint Asper (Burt Reynolds) (1962-65), Thad Greenwood (Roger Ewing) (1966-68), and Newly O'Brien (Buck Taylor) (1967-75), who served as both back-up deputy and doctor-in-training, having some studies in medicine through his uncle, which then continued under Doc Adams.
In 1962, Burt Reynolds was added to the show's lineup, as the "halfbreed" blacksmith Quint Asper, and performed that role from the year just before the departure of Chester Goode and to just after the appearance of Festus Haggen. Three of the actors, who played Dodge deputies, Ken Curtis, Roger Ewing, and Buck Taylor, had previous guest roles. Curtis, a big band and Western singer (Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Shep Fields Band, Sons of the Pioneers), had five previous guest roles, including one in 1963 as a shady ladies' man named Kyle Kelly ("Lover Boy," season 9, show two [episode 307]).
Curtis first appeared in the 1959 episode "Jayhawkers" (season four, episode 21 [episode 138]), wherein he played Phil Jacks, a Texas cowboy, with Jack Elam as his boss during a cattle drive from Texas. The second was another 1959 episode entitled "Change of Heart" (season four, episode 32 [episode 149]), where he played Brisco. The third appearance is the 1960 episode "The Ex-Urbanites" (season five, episode 30 [episode 186]), where he plays Jesse. He also had a small role as an Indian named Scout in the episode "Speak Me Fair" (season five, episode 34 [episode 190]) in 1960. Curtis was reared in Las Animas, Colorado, and for a time was a son-in-law of director John Ford.
In 1963, Weaver left the series to pursue a broader acting career in TV series and films. In 1964, Curtis was signed as a regular to play the stubbornly illiterate hillbilly Festus Haggen. The character, heretofore a comic feature, came to town in a 1962 episode titled "Us Haggens" to avenge the death of his twin brother Fergus, and decided to stay in Dodge when the deed was done. Initially on the fringes of Dodge society, Festus was slowly phased in as a reliable sidekick/part-time deputy to Matt Dillon when Reynolds left in 1965. In the episode "Alias Festus Haggen", he is mistaken for a robber and killer, whom he has to expose, to free himself (both parts played by Curtis). In a comic relief episode, "Mad Dog", another case of mistaken identity forces Festus to fight three sons of a man killed by his cousin. As a side note, only one episode has all three actors in it playing their respective roles, in the 1964 episode entitled "Prairie Wolfer" (season 9, episode 16 [episode 321]), with Dennis Weaver as Chester, Burt Reynolds as Quint, and Ken Curtis as Festus. The 1964 episode entitled "Once a Haggen" (season 9, episode 18 [episode 323]) is the second of only two occasions in which Chester and Festus appear in the same episode.
When Milburn Stone left the series for heart bypass surgery in 1971, Pat Hingle played his temporary replacement, Dr. John Chapman, for several episodes. His presence was at first roundly resisted by Festus, a bickersome but close friend of Doc Adams.
Well-known actors played "visiting characters". Jeanette Nolan played Dirty Sally in several episodes.
The back stories of some of the main characters were largely left to the imagination of the viewer. Matt Dillon spent his early years in foster care, knew the Bible, was a wayward, brawling cowboy, and was later mentored by a caring lawman. In a few episodes, he mentions having spent some time in the army. Kitty Russell was born in New Orleans and reared by a flashy foster mother (who once visited Dodge), although her father visited Dodge on one occasion and wished to have her return to New Orleans. Barkeep Sam is said to be married, but no wife is ever seen. (In the episode "Tafton", he is seen side-by-side with a woman in a church singing.)
Quint Asper's white father was killed by white scavengers. Thad Greenwood's father, a storekeeper, was harassed to death by a trio of loathsome ne'er-do-well thieves. Chester Goode is known to be one of many brothers raised by an aunt and uncle, and on one occasion, he mentions his mother; he refers to past service in the cavalry and years as a cattle driver in Texas. The cause of Chester's stiff right leg is never given, but it is shown as his own leg and not a prosthesis. No direct reference to his disability is ever made in the script, although some oblique moments paint the free-spirited, comic deputy with a darker tone. Newly O'Brien was named after a physician uncle who ignited his interest in medicine.
While Dillon and Miss Kitty clearly have a close personal relationship, the two never marry. In a July 2, 2002, Associated Press interview with Bob Thomas, Arness explained, "If they were man and wife, it would make a lot of difference. The people upstairs decided it was better to leave the show as it was, which I totally agreed with." In the episode "Waste", featuring Johnny Whitaker as a boy with a prostitute mother, her madam questions Dillon as to why the law overlooks Miss Kitty's enterprise. Apparently, bordellos could exist "at the law's discretion," (meaning the marshal's). As a historical matter, prior to the First World War, few laws criminalized prostitution in the United States. The nearest that Matt and Miss Kitty have to a romantic evening together is when they try to have dinner over the Long Branch Saloon ("A Quiet Day In Dodge", 1973). Unfortunately, Marshal Dillon has been going over 30 hours without sleep, and when Kitty is distracted, he falls soundly asleep. The nearest Miss Kitty gets to being married is when she has to pretend to be married to Cavalry Sgt. Holly to save her from a robber gang ("Sergeant Holly", 1970). By the time of the "Gold Train" episode, Kitty remembers when she first met Matt - 17 years before. Miss Kitty was written out in 1974. The actress, fired by producer John Mantley over a contract dispute, claimed she was tired and quit to protect the cast and crew she loved so much. When Blake decided not to return for the show's 20th (and final) season, the character was said to have returned to New Orleans. She was replaced by the hoarse-voiced, matronly actress Fran Ryan (known to many as the second Doris Ziffel on CBS's Green Acres.)
For over a decade on television, a sign hung over Doc's office that read "Dr. G. Adams". Milburn Stone was given free rein to choose the character's first name. The actor chose the name of the ancient Greek physician and medical researcher Galen. He is first referred to in this manner by Theodore Bikel as "Martin Kellums" in the season-10 episode, "Song for Dying", aired February 13, 1965.
Differences were noted between the characters on the radio and TV versions of Gunsmoke. In the radio series, Doc was acerbic, somewhat mercenary, and borderline alcoholic, at least in the program's early years. On radio's Gunsmoke, Doc Adams's real name was Dr. Calvin Moore. He came west and changed his name to escape a charge of murder. The television Doc, though still crusty, was in many ways softer and warmer.
Nothing in the radio series suggested that Chester Proudfoot was disabled; this merely visual feature was added to the Chester Goode character on television because of actor Dennis Weaver's athletic build, to emphasize Chester's role as a follower and not an independent agent.
Miss Kitty, who after the radio series ended, was said by some to have engaged in prostitution, began in that role in the television series, working in the Long Branch Saloon. In an earlier 1956 episode ("How to Cure a Friend", season two, episode seven), the owner of the Long Branch was named Bill Pence (a role played by at least three different actors over the years). A later episode ("Daddy O", Season two, episode 36, filmed in 1956 and aired in 1957) begins with Chester pointing out to Matt (who had been out of town) a new sign under the Long Branch Saloon sign saying "Russell & Pence, Proprietors". In that same episode, John Dehner portrayed a dubious New Orleans businessman claiming to be Kitty's father, who tried to talk her into selling her half interest in the Long Branch and returning to New Orleans with him as a partner in his alleged freight business. In another 1956 episode (involving a new saloon girl named "Rena Decker", who causes four deaths by provoking men into fighting over her), Miss Kitty identifies herself as half-owner of the Long Branch with Mr. Pence (played by Judson Pratt). Subsequently, Miss Kitty transitioned to sole owner. Although early film episodes showed her descending from her second-floor rooms in the saloon with Matt, or showed her or one of her girls leading a cowboy up to those same rooms, these scenes disappeared later on, and viewers were guided to see Miss Kitty just as a kindhearted businesswoman.
From 1955 to 1961, Gunsmoke was a half-hour show (retitled Marshal Dillon in syndication). It then went to an hour-long format. The series was retitled Gun Law in the UK. The Marshal Dillon syndicated rerun lasted from 1961 until 1964 on CBS, originally on Tuesday nights within its time in reruns.
Gunsmoke was TV's number one-ranked show from 1957 to 1961 before slipping into a decline after expanding to an hour. In 1967, the show's 12th season, CBS planned to cancel the series, but widespread viewer reaction (including a mention in Congress and the behind-the-scenes pressure from Babe Paley, the wife of CBS's longtime president William S. Paley) prevented its demise. On the Biography Channel's Behind The Scenes: Gilligan's Island (2002), Gilligan's Island producer Sherwood Schwartz states that the wife of CBS's president pressured her husband not to cancel Gunsmoke in 1967, so the network cut Gilligan's Island, instead. The show continued in its new time slot at 8 pm on Mondays. This scheduling move led to a spike in ratings that had it once again rally to the top 10 in the Nielsen ratings, which again saved the series when CBS purged most of its rural content in 1971. The series remained in the top 10 until the 1973-74 television season. In September 1975, despite still ranking among the top-30 programs in the ratings, Gunsmoke was cancelled after a 20-year run; it was replaced by Mary Tyler Moore spin-offs Rhoda and Phyllis (though Rhoda actually debuted while Gunsmoke was still airing first-run). Thirty TV Westerns came and went during its 20-year tenure, and Gunsmoke was the sole survivor, with Alias Smith and Jones and Bonanza both leaving the airwaves 2 1/2 years earlier in January 1973.
Arness and Stone remained with the show for its entire run, though Stone missed seven episodes in 1971 due to illness.
The entire cast was stunned by the cancellation, as they were unaware that CBS was considering it. According to Arness, "We didn't do a final, wrap-up show. We finished the 20th year, we all expected to go on for another season, or two or three. The (network) never told anybody they were thinking of canceling." The cast and crew read the news in the trade papers. This seemed to have been a habit of CBS. Three other popular shows, Gilligan's Island, Lost in Space, and The Incredible Hulk met the same fate, in the same, abrupt manner.
In 1987, CBS commissioned a reunion movie entitled Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge. James Arness and Amanda Blake returned in their iconic roles of Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty, with Fran Ryan returning in her role as Kitty's friend/saloon-owner Hannah and Buck Taylor returning as Newly O'Brian. Doc Adams and Festus Haggen were not featured in the film. Milburn Stone had died 7 years earlier in 1980 and the role of Doc was not recast. Ken Curtis, meanwhile, balked at the salary offer he received and said that he should be paid based on Festus' importance in the character hierarchy. The screenwriters responded to Curtis' absence by making Newly the new Dodge City marshal. The film, shot in Alberta, featured a now-retired Marshal Dillon being attacked and a vengeful former rival returning to Dodge City to entrap him.
In 1990, the second telefilm, Gunsmoke: The Last Apache, premiered. Since Amanda Blake had died the year before, the writers decided to revisit a 1973 episode for the movie. The episode was based on "Matt's Love Story", which was noted for the marshal's first overnight visit to a female's lodgings. In the episode, Matt loses his memory and his heart during a brief liaison with "Mike" Yardner (played by Michael Learned).[notes 2] In the film, Learned returns as Mike, who reveals to Marshal Dillon that he is the father of their daughter. Beth (played by Amy Stock-Poynton) and asks him for help in saving her. Dodge City was never again seen.
|Season||Episodes||Originally aired||Nielsen ratings|
|First aired||Last aired||Rank||Rating||Tied with|
|1||39||September 10, 1955||August 25, 1956||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|2||39||September 8, 1956||June 29, 1957||7||32.7||I've Got a Secret|
|3||39||September 14, 1957||June 7, 1958||1||43.1||N/A|
|4||39||September 13, 1958||June 13, 1959||1||39.6||N/A|
|5||39||September 5, 1959||June 11, 1960||1||40.3||N/A|
|6||38||September 3, 1960||June 17, 1961||1||37.3||N/A|
|7||34||September 30, 1961||May 26, 1962||3||28.3||N/A|
|8||38||September 15, 1962||June 1, 1963||10||27.0||N/A|
|9||36||September 28, 1963||June 6, 1964||20||23.5||N/A|
|10||36||September 26, 1964||May 29, 1965||27||22.6||N/A|
|11||32||September 18, 1965||May 7, 1966||30||21.3||N/A|
|12||29||September 17, 1966||April 15, 1967||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|13||25||September 11, 1967||March 4, 1968||4||25.5||Family Affair|
|14||26||September 23, 1968||March 24, 1969||6||24.9||N/A|
|15||26||September 22, 1969||March 23, 1970||2||25.9||N/A|
|16||24||September 14, 1970||March 8, 1971||5||25.5||N/A|
|17||24||September 13, 1971||March 13, 1972||4||26.0||N/A|
|18||24||September 11, 1972||March 5, 1973||7||23.6||The Mary Tyler Moore Show|
|19||24||September 10, 1973||April 1, 1974||15||22.1||N/A|
|20||24||September 9, 1974||March 31, 1975||28||20.5||N/A|
|Television movies||September 26, 1987||February 10, 1994||N/A||N/A||N/A|
All 635 episodes of the television series, and almost all 480 episodes of the radio show, still exist.
In syndication, the entire 20-year run of Gunsmoke is separated into three packages by CBS Television Distribution:
In 2006, as part of Gunsmokes 50th anniversary on TV, certain selected episodes were released on DVD in three different box sets. Twelve episodes, from 1955 to 1964, were selected for the Gunsmoke: Volume I box set, and another twelve episodes, from 1964 to 1975, were selected for the Gunsmoke: Volume II box set. Both sets are also available as a combined single "Gift Box Set". A third unique DVD box set, known as Gunsmoke: The Directors Collection, was also released with 10 selected episodes from certain seasons throughout the series' 20-year history. All of these box sets are available on Region 1 DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment and CBS DVD.
Additionally, Paramount Home Entertainment and CBS DVD have released the first 14 seasons (seasons one to six are known as the "half-hour years") on DVD in Region 1. Season 15 will be released on October 1, 2019. All DVDs have been released with English audio and close captioning from season 1 to 5 and starting season 6 English SDH.
Preceding the series by nearly 2 years was a 1953 movie also titled Gunsmoke. It has been confused in the past as the basis for the series but has been proven since to have no connection with the show, or radio series, with the exception that all are westerns.
Gunsmoke had one spin-off series, Dirty Sally, a semicomedy starring Jeanette Nolan as an old woman and Dack Rambo as a young gunfighter, leaving Dodge City for California to pan for gold. The program lasted 13 weeks and aired in the first half of 1974, a year before Gunsmoke ended.
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The Gunsmoke radio theme song and later TV theme was titled "Old Trails", also known as "Boothill". The Gunsmoke theme was composed by Rex Koury. The original radio version was conducted by Koury. The TV version was thought to have been first conducted by CBS west coast music director Lud Gluskin. The lyrics of the theme, never aired on the radio or television show, were recorded and released by Tex Ritter in 1955. Ritter was backed on that Capitol record by Rex Koury and the radio Gunsmoke orchestra. William Lava composed the original theme music for television, as noted in the program credits.
Other notable composers included:
The Gunsmoke brand was used to endorse numerous products, from cottage cheese to cigarettes.
The Heartland toy company included an 8" (1/9th scale) plastic Matt Dillion figure as well as his horse "Buck" (aka "Old Faithful Buck") in their line of famous TV cowboys and their horses during the 1950's.
In 1985, Capcom released a video game for the arcade (and its corresponding game for the NES in 1988) with a Western theme, called Gun.Smoke. Other than the Western theme, the show and game have no relationship whatsoever.
The program currently airs on three major venues: TV Land, which has carried the show since its inception in 1996, Encore Westerns, and Weigel Broadcasting's MeTV digital subchannel network. Individual stations such as KFWD in Dallas also carry the series in their markets. It has also been shown on satellite channel CBS Action in the UK, Ireland and Poland. The series also appears intermittently on MeTV's themed sister network Decades, which CBS holds a partial interest in; it appears on the schedule depending on the theme and year a particular day has.