Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Classic TV: Gunsmoke (1955)

The most successful Western in television history got its start on radio, like a number of other television series in the 50's. The only difference is, Gunsmoke far outlasted The Life of Riley, The Jack Benny Program, Gang Busters, Dragnet, and so on, lasting 20 years before CBS ended the series in 1975.

Most folks knew about the town of Dodge City from the stories of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. However, they weren't around when Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) was in charge, which suggests that Gunsmoke is set well after the "Gunfight at the OK Corral". On radio, William Conrad, better known for his television work (i.e. Cannon), played Dillon. Arness simply picked up the baton and ran with it, playing Dillon with the same intensity that Conrad had (I have to assume; I've never heard the radio version, but judging from Conrad's TV work, well......).

Dillon had a handful of deputies during the course of the show's run, including Chester Goode (Dennis Weaver) and, of course, Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis, formerly of the Sons of the Pioneers). For most of the series' run, the core cast was filled out with Doc Adams (Milburn Stone) & Miss Kitty, the owner of the Long Branch Saloon (Amanda Blake). In the early years, Gunsmoke was a half-hour show (syndicated under the title, Marshal Dillon) before expanding to the 1 hour format everyone knows. I actually got the chance to see those half-hour reruns when they aired on Retro a few years back, but I don't know of anyone that has them now. The one-hour edition airs on Me-TV and, I think still, TV Land, among other places.

Here's a sample episode from the half-hour era:

In time, the series would expand to an hour, and would remain so for the rest of the run.

The popularity of Gunsmoke was such that they would bring the cast together again for some TV movies in later years.

Rating: A.


magicdog said...

I'd heard so much about this show - mostly due to the fact that like "Law & Order" and "The Simpsons", it ran seemingly forever and viewers are counted in generations rather than numbers.

Tis was a show that really should have ended much sooner than it did. I blame William Paley's wife! You've no doubt heard the story that Gunsmoke was her favorite show and in 1967 CBS was planning to cancel it and make room for another season of "Gilligan's Island" and another sitcom. With but a whisper to her husband, Gilligan got the ax and viewers got 8 more mediocre years of GS.

"Marshal Dillon" 1/2 hour eps are airing on Encore Westerns at 5pm EST/2pm PST.

hobbyfan said...

Ok, so Encore got the rights to the 1/2-hours. They probably have a share of the rest, too.

I have long read of the Paleys and the Gilligan/Gunsmoke imbroglio in '67. Mediocre? I think not. I grew up during those last 8 years, and had lived through the spinoff, Dirty Sally, which may merit a "What Might've Been" entry at some point. I've seen some of the older shows on cable through the years as well.