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Gunsmoke is an American radio and television Western drama series created by director Norman Macdonnell and writer John Meston. It centered on Dodge City, Kansas in the 1870s, 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.

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."[1] It ran unsponsored for its first few years, with CBS funding its production.

In 1955, the series was adapted for television and ran for 20 seasons. It ran in half-hour episodes from 1955 to 1961, and one-hour episodes from 1962 to 1975. A total of 635 episodes were aired over its 20 year run. 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 Buntline, Harte, and Twain. It was ever the stuff of legend."[2]

Five made-for-tv movies were produced after its 20-year run. The show won 15 Primetime Emmy awards as well as other accolades. It was frequently well received, holding a top-10 spot in the Nielsen ratings for several seasons.

The United Kingdom series was initially titled Gun Law.[3]

Radio series (1952–1961)[edit]

Publicity photo from Gunsmoke's radio version (photo from 1954)
Running time30 minutes
Country of originUnited States
TV adaptationsGunsmoke
AnnouncerGeorge Walsh
Created by
Produced byNorman Macdonnell
Original releaseApril 26, 1952 (1952-04-26) –
June 18, 1961 (1961-06-18)
No. of series9
No. of episodes480 (List of episodes)
Audio formatMonaural

In the late 1940s, CBS chairman William S. Paley, a fan of the Philip Marlowe radio series, asked his programming chief, Hubell Robinson, to develop a hardcore Western series, about a "Philip Marlowe of the Old West". Robinson delegated this to his West Coast CBS vice president, Harry Ackerman, who had developed the Philip Marlowe series.[4]

Ackerman and his scriptwriters, Mort Fine and David Friedkin, created an audition script called "Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" based on one of their Michael Shayne radio scripts, "The Case of the Crooked Wheel", from mid-1948. Two versions were recorded. The first, recorded in June 1949, was very much like a hardcore detective series and starred Michael Rye (credited as Rye Billsbury) as Dillon;[5][4] the second, recorded in July 1949, starred Straight Arrow actor Howard Culver in a more Western, lighter version of the same script.[6][7] CBS liked the Culver version better, and Ackerman was told to proceed.

A complication arose when Culver's contract as the star of Straight Arrow would not allow him to do another Western series. The project was suspended for three years, when producer Norman Macdonnell and writer John Meston discovered it while creating an adult Western series of their own.[8]

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."[1]



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[edit]

William Conrad in 1952, when Matt Dillon was created on radio

Matt Dillon was played on radio by William Conrad and on television by James Arness. Two versions of the same pilot episode titled "Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" were produced with 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."[9]

Meston relished the upending of cherished Western fiction clichés and said 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 the time of 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."[1]

Doc Adams[edit]

Howard McNear starred as Dr. Charles Adams in the radio series, and Milburn Stone portrayed 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. He was acerbic, somewhat mercenary, and borderline alcoholic, in the program's early years. His real name was Dr. Calvin Moore.[10] He came west and changed his name to escape a charge of murder. However, McNear's performances steadily became more warm-hearted and sympathetic. Doc wandered throughout the territories until he settled in Dodge City 17 years later under the name of Charles Adams. Conrad borrowed the surname from cartoonist Charles Addams as a testament to Doc's initially ghoulish comportment. Milburn Stone was given free rein to choose the character's first name, and chose that of the ancient Greek physician and medical researcher Galen.

Miss Kitty[edit]

Kitty was played by actress Georgia Ellis on radio, and by Amanda Blake on television. Ellis first appeared in the radio episode "Billy the Kid" (April 26, 1952) as "Francie Richards" – a former girlfriend of Matt Dillon's and the widow of a criminal, but the character of "Miss Kitty" did not appear until the May 10, 1952, episode "Jaliscoe". Sometime in 1959, Ellis was billed as Georgia Hawkins instead of Georgia Ellis. Amanda Blake appeared in over 500 episodes of the television series, with her last being the April 1, 1974, episode titled, "The Disciple".

In the radio series, 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".[1] The magazine observed that she is "obviously not selling chocolate bars".[11] The television show first portrayed Kitty as a saloon dance hall employee, then from season two, episode 36 ("Daddy-O"), as half-owner of the Long Branch Saloon.

Dillon and Kitty clearly have a close personal relationship.

Distinction from other radio Westerns[edit]

The interior of the real Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas, photographed between 1870 and 1885

Gunsmoke is 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."[1] Some listeners, such as Dunning, argue the radio version was more realistic. Episodes were aimed at adults with some of the most explicit content of their time, including violent crimes, scalpings, massacres, and opium addicts. Many episodes end on a somber note, and villains often get away with their crimes.

The program was set after the arrival of the railroad in Dodge City (1872) and Kansas had been a state since 1861. In reality, a U.S. Marshal (actually a deputy marshal, because 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.

Apart from the doleful tone, Gunsmoke is distinct from other radio Westerns, as the dialogue is often slow and halting, and the outstanding sound effects give a palpable sense of the prairie setting. The effects are 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."[1]

Gunsmoke is unique from other Westerns in that it was unsponsored in the first few years of production. The program was funded by CBS in the first two years. Series producers said that if the show were sponsored, they would have to "clean the show up".[12] The producers wanted to find a sponsor that would allow them to keep the show the way it was.[13]

Television proposal[edit]

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, CBS simply took it away from Macdonnell and began preparing for the television version."[1]

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, most of the television 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."[1]

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, and McNear appeared on six, playing characters other than Doc, including three times as storekeeper Howard Rudd.

Television series (1955–1975) and TV movies[edit]

Based on
Developed byCharles Marquis Warren
Theme music composer
  • Rex Koury
  • Glenn Spencer
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons
  • 6 (Marshal Dillon, syndication retitling of half-hour episodes)
  • 14 (Gunsmoke),
  • 20 (total seasons)
No. of episodes
  • 233 (Marshal Dillon, syndication retitling of half-hour episodes), 402 (Gunsmoke)
  • 635 (total episodes)
(list of episodes)
Running time
  • 26 minutes (1955–1961)
  • 50 minutes (1961–1975)
Production companies
Original release
ReleaseSeptember 10, 1955 (1955-09-10) –
March 31, 1975 (1975-03-31)

The television series ran from September 10, 1955, to March 31, 1975, on CBS, with 635 total episodes. It is the second Western television series written for adults, premiering on September 10, 1955, four days after The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.[14] 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.[15]

Transition from radio to TV[edit]

When Gunsmoke was adapted for television in 1955, contrary to 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 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."[16] It has long been rumored that John Wayne was offered the role of Matt Dillon; according to Dennis Weaver's comments on the 50th Anniversary DVD, disc one, episode "Hack Prine", John Wayne was never even 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."[17]

According to Thomas "Duke" Miller, a television and 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 television, 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 as Marshal Matt Dillon (on the recommendation of Wayne, who also introduced the pilot), Dennis Weaver as Chester Goode, Milburn Stone as Dr. G. "Doc" Adams (the G. later specified as standing for Galen), and Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty Russell. Macdonnell became the associate producer of the television show and later the producer. Meston was head writer.

The series was filmed at the present site of California Lutheran University (CLU) and nearby Wildwood Regional Park in Thousand Oaks, California.[18][19][20]

In 1975, CBS made the decision not to renew Gunsmoke for a 21st season, without making any public announcement or informing the producers or cast members ahead of time. 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 cancelling." The cast and crew read the news in the trade papers.[21]


1963 cast with Burt Reynolds
Ken Curtis as Festus and Arness as Dillon, 1968
Clockwise from top: Ken Curtis (Festus), James Arness (Matt), Amanda Blake (Kitty), and Milburn Stone (Doc) in 1968
Dennis Weaver and Mariette Hartley, 1962

Chester and Festus Haggen are Dillon's sidekicks, though others became acting deputies for 2+12- to 7+12-year stints: Quint Asper (Burt Reynolds) (1962–65), Thad Greenwood (Roger Ewing) (1965–67), 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. Initially on the fringes of Dodge society, Festus Haggen was slowly phased in as a reliable sidekick and part-time deputy to Matt Dillon when Reynolds left in 1965. When Milburn Stone temporarily left for heart bypass surgery in 1971, Pat Hingle played Dr. John Chapman for several episodes.


The Gunsmoke radio theme song and later television theme is titled "Old Trails", also known as "Boothill". The Gunsmoke theme was composed by Rex Koury.[22] The original radio version was conducted by Koury. The television 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.[23]

Other notable composers included:


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 reruns of half-hour episodes lasted from 1961 until 1964 on CBS, originally on Tuesday nights within its time in reruns.


SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedRank[24]Rating[24]Viewers
First airedLast aired
139September 10, 1955 (1955-09-10)August 25, 1956 (1956-08-25)
239September 8, 1956 (1956-09-08)June 29, 1957 (1957-06-29)832.7[a]12.72[25]
339September 14, 1957 (1957-09-14)June 7, 1958 (1958-06-07)143.118.06[26]
439September 13, 1958 (1958-09-13)June 13, 1959 (1959-06-13)139.617.40[27]
539September 5, 1959 (1959-09-05)June 11, 1960 (1960-06-11)140.318.43[28]
638September 3, 1960 (1960-09-03)June 17, 1961 (1961-06-17)137.317.60[29]
734September 30, 1961 (1961-09-30)May 26, 1962 (1962-05-26)328.313.74[30]
838September 15, 1962 (1962-09-15)June 1, 1963 (1963-06-01)1027.013.58[31]
936September 28, 1963 (1963-09-28)June 6, 1964 (1964-06-06)2023.512.12[32]
1036September 26, 1964 (1964-09-26)May 29, 1965 (1965-05-29)2722.611.91[33]
1132September 18, 1965 (1965-09-18)May 7, 1966 (1966-05-07)3021.311.47[34]
1229September 17, 1966 (1966-09-17)April 15, 1967 (1967-04-15)3419.911.33
1325September 11, 1967 (1967-09-11)March 4, 1968 (1968-03-04)425.5[b]14.45[35]
1426September 23, 1968 (1968-09-23)March 24, 1969 (1969-03-24)624.914.50[36]
1526September 22, 1969 (1969-09-22)March 23, 1970 (1970-03-23)225.915.15[37]
1624September 14, 1970 (1970-09-14)March 8, 1971 (1971-03-08)525.515.32[38]
1724September 13, 1971 (1971-09-13)March 13, 1972 (1972-03-13)426.016.14[39]
1824September 11, 1972 (1972-09-11)March 5, 1973 (1973-03-05)823.6[c]15.29[40]
1924September 10, 1973 (1973-09-10)April 1, 1974 (1974-04-01)1522.114.63[41]
2024September 9, 1974 (1974-09-09)March 31, 1975 (1975-03-31)2620.714.04[42]
Television filmsSeptember 26, 1987 (1987-09-26)February 10, 1994 (1994-02-10)


In syndication, the entire 20-year run of Gunsmoke is separated into three packages by CBS Television Distribution:

  • 1955–1961 half-hour episodes: These episodes are sometimes seen in their original format and sometimes in the Marshal Dillon format. When first-run, prime-time episodes of Gunsmoke expanded to an hour in fall 1961, CBS-TV reran the half-hour episodes as Marshal Dillon on the network on Tuesday nights from 1961 through 1964. These were later rerun in syndication. General syndication ended in the 1980s, but they do air occasionally on cable television. Local stations would show the retitled Marshal Dillon version of the series, while the series under the original Gunsmoke title (with some episodes under the Marshal Dillon retitling) were seen in the late 1990s on TV Land and later Hallmark Channel. STARZ! Westerns Channel aired this version under the Marshal Dillon title. RetroPlex also aired two half-hour episodes under the original Gunsmoke title, although the episodes are advertised as Marshal Dillon, on Saturday nights from 8 to 9 pm Eastern time. MeTV announced that it would begin the half-hour black-and-white episodes beginning on January 2, 2017.
  • 1961–1966 one-hour black-and-white episodes: These episodes have not been widely seen in regular syndication since the 1980s, although selected episodes did air from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s on CBN Cable/The Family Channel, and later on Encore Westerns on a three-year contract that ended around 2006. As of January 2010, Encore Westerns was again airing the episodes. In October 2015, MeTV announced that it would begin airing the one-hour black-and-white episodes on October 26.[43]
  • 1966–1975 one-hour color episodes: The last nine seasons of the Western, the most widely syndicated episodes of the entire series run, are still aired on some local stations, and nationally on TV Land and MeTV.

The program currently airs on four major venues: TV Land, which has carried the show since its inception in 1996, Encore Westerns, INSP, 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.

Home media[edit]

In 2006, as part of Gunsmoke's 50th anniversary on television, 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 series in its entirety on DVD for 13 years between 2007 and 2020 in Region 1 (all of the seasons except for season one and seasons sixteen through twenty were split into two volumes). A complete series box set was released on May 5, 2020. All DVDs have been released with English audio and close captioning from season 1 to 5 and starting season 6 English SDH.

DVD releases – Seasons 1–20
DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The First Season 39 July 17, 2007
The Second Season, Volume 1 20 January 8, 2008
The Second Season, Volume 2 19 May 27, 2008
The Third Season, Volume 1 19 December 9, 2008
The Third Season, Volume 2 20 May 26, 2009
The Fourth Season, Volume 1 19 October 5, 2010
The Fourth Season, Volume 2 20 December 14, 2010
The Fifth Season, Volume 1 20 October 11, 2011
The Fifth Season, Volume 2 19 December 13, 2011
The Sixth Season, Volume 1 19 August 7, 2012
The Sixth Season, Volume 2 19 October 16, 2012
The Seventh Season, Volume 1 17 December 11, 2012
The Seventh Season, Volume 2 17 February 5, 2013
The Eighth Season, Volume 1 19 May 7, 2013
The Eighth Season, Volume 2 19 May 7, 2013
The Ninth Season, Volume 1 18 August 6, 2013
The Ninth Season, Volume 2 18 August 6, 2013
DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Tenth Season, Volume 1 18 August 12, 2014
The Tenth Season, Volume 2 18 August 12, 2014
The Eleventh Season, Volume 1 16 December 2, 2014
The Eleventh Season, Volume 2 16 December 2, 2014
The Twelfth Season, Volume 1 15 September 20, 2016
The Twelfth Season, Volume 2 14 September 20, 2016
The Thirteenth Season, Volume 1 15 May 22, 2018
The Thirteenth Season, Volume 2 10 May 22, 2018
The Fourteenth Season, Volume 1 15 February 5, 2019
The Fourteenth Season, Volume 2 11 February 5, 2019
The Fifteenth Season, Volume 1 15 October 1, 2019
The Fifteenth Season, Volume 2 11 October 1, 2019
The Sixteenth Season 24 December 10, 2019
The Seventeenth Season 24 December 10, 2019
The Eighteenth Season 24 February 4, 2020
The Nineteenth Season 24 February 4, 2020
The Final Season 24 May 5, 2020

TV movies[edit]

In 1987, CBS commissioned a reunion movie titled Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge. James Arness and Amanda Blake returned in their iconic roles of Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty, with Fran Ryan returning as Kitty's friend and saloon-owner Hannah and Buck Taylor as Newly O'Brian. Doc Adams and Festus Haggen were not featured in the film. Milburn Stone had died seven years earlier in 1980 and the role of Doc was not recast. Ken Curtis balked at the salary offer he received and said that he should be paid based on Festus's importance in the character hierarchy. The screenwriters responded to Curtis's absence by making Newly the new Dodge City marshal. The film, shot in Alberta, features 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. Because Amanda Blake had died the year before, the writers revisited a 1973 episode for the movie. The episode was based on "Matt's Love Story". In the episode, Matt loses his memory and his heart during a brief liaison with "Mike" Yardner (played by Michael Learned, better known for playing Olivia in The Waltons). In the film, Learned returns as Mike, who reveals to Marshal Dillon that he is the father of their daughter,[44] Beth (played by Amy Stock-Poynton) and asks him for help in saving her from a band on Apaches. Other films included Gunsmoke: To the Last Man (1992), Gunsmoke: The Long Ride (1993), and Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice (1994). Arness stars in all five made-for-television movies.


Amanda Blake and Jack Albertson, 1969
Guest star Bette Davis, 1966
Guest stars Anne Helm and John Drew Barrymore, 1964

Primetime Emmy[edit]

Year[a] Category Nominee(s) / Work Result Ref(s)
1956 Best Action or Adventure Series Gunsmoke Nominated
1957 Best Continuing Performance by an Actor in a Dramatic Series James Arness Nominated
1958 Best Continuing Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic or Comedy Series James Arness Nominated
Best Continuing Supporting Performance by an Actor in a Dramatic or Comedy Series Dennis Weaver Nominated
Best Dramatic Series with Continuing Characters Gunsmoke Won
Best Editing of a Film for Television Mike Pozen for "How to Kill a Woman" Won
Best Teleplay Writing (Half-Hour or Less) John Meston for "Born to Hang" Nominated
1959 Best Actor in a Leading Role (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series James Arness Nominated
Best Supporting Actor (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series Dennis Weaver Won
Best Supporting Actress (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series Amanda Blake Nominated
Best Western Series Gunsmoke Nominated
1966 Individual Achievements in Music - Composition Morton Stevens for "Seven Hours to Dawn" Nominated
1968 Outstanding Achievement in Musical Composition Morton Stevens for "Major Glory" Nominated
Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama Milburn Stone Won
1970 Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing Norman Karlin and Richard E. Raderman Won[b]
  1. ^ Indicates the year of ceremony.
  2. ^ Tied with Alex Bamattre, Michael Colgan, Douglas H. Grindstaff, Joe Kavigan, Bill Lee, and Josef E. Von Stroheim for ABC Movie of the Week: The Immortal


  • In TV Guide′s April 17, 1993, issue celebrating 40 years of television, the all-time-best-TV programs were chosen. "No contest, this [Gunsmoke] was the TV Western."[45]
  • Entertainment Weekly (February 19, 1999, issue) ranked the premiere of Gunsmoke as No. 47 in the "100 Greatest Moments in Television".[46]
  • Entertainment Weekly, in 1998, ranked Gunsmoke as No. 16 in The 100 Greatest TV Shows of all time.[47]
  • In a 1998 TV Guide poll of 50,000, Gunsmoke was ranked as CBS's best Western and James Arness was ranked as CBS's best "Gunslinger".[48]
  • In 1997, the episode "The Jailer" was ranked No. 28 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.[49]
  • In 2002, TV Guide ranked Gunsmoke as No. 40 in the 50 greatest television shows of all time.[50]
  • In 2013, TV Guide ranked it as #27 on their list of the 60 Best Series.[51]
  • In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked Gunsmoke – and The Defenders – #84 on their list of the 101 Best Written TV Series.[52]
  • In 2019, the radio episode "The Cabin" was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[53]

Viewer reception[edit]

Gunsmoke was television's number one ranked show from 1957 to 1961, then it expanded to one hour and slipped into a decline. CBS planned to cancel the series in 1967 after the twelfth season, but widespread viewer reaction prevented its demise, including a mention in Congress and pressure from Babe Paley, the wife of CBS's longtime president William S. Paley. Gilligan's Island producer Sherwood Schwartz states that Babe 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.[54] Gunsmoke was canceled in September 1975 after a 20-year run, even though it still ranked among the top 30 programs in the ratings; it was replaced by Mary Tyler Moore spin-offs Rhoda and Phyllis. Thirty television 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+12 years earlier in January 1973.


Longevity records[edit]

The television series was the longest-running, primetime, live-action television series at 20 seasons, until September 2019 with the 21st-season premiere of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.[55] The original Law & Order, which was canceled in 2010 after tying Gunsmoke's longevity record for a live-action, primetime television series, began its 21st season in February 2022.[56] As of 2017, it had the highest number of scripted episodes for any U.S. primetime, commercial, live-action television series. On April 29, 2018, The Simpsons surpassed the show for the most scripted episodes.[57] Some foreign-made programs have been broadcast in the U.S. and contend for the position as the longest-running prime-time series. As of 2016, Gunsmoke was rated fourth globally, after Doctor Who (1963–present), Taggart (1983–2010),[58] and The Bill (1984–2010).

Gunsmoke is the last fictional primetime show that debuted in the 1950s to leave the air and only one of three shows from the 1960s that lasted past its final season in 1974–75.[citation needed]

Character longevity[edit]

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).[59] This was surpassed by Mariska Hargitay, who has portrayed the character Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for over 23 consecutive years to date.[60] George Walsh, the announcer for Gunsmoke, began in 1952 on the radio series and continued until the television series was canceled in 1975.[17]

James Arness, Milburn Stone, Ken Curtis, Dennis Weaver, and Amanda Blake are all inductees of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.[61]

In popular culture[edit]

Dodge City's Boot Hill Museum has a tribute to Gunsmoke, including set furniture from the 1960s and an old television tuned to the show. Signed photographs from the show's actors and other memorabilia are on display including a vest worn by Sam the bartender and a dress worn by Miss Kitty.[62] In 2015, several of the surviving staff reunited at Wild West Fest in Dodge City, including stars Burt Reynolds, Buck Taylor, Jess Walton, Bruce Boxleitner, and writer Jim Byrnes.[63]

In media[edit]

A fight scene between Arness and guest star John Anderson from the 1958 episode "Buffalo Man" appears in the educational film Film Editing: Interpretation and Value, produced by American Cinema Editors. Footage from the scene is used in editing classes in many film schools in the United States.

The Gunsmoke brand was used to endorse numerous products, including cottage cheese[64] and cigarettes.

The Hartland toy company included an 8" (19th scale) plastic Matt Dillion figure and his horse Old Faithful Buck in their line of famous TV cowboys and horses during the 1950s.

Lowell Toy Manufacturing Corporation ("It's a Lowell Game") issued Gunsmoke as game No. 822.[65] Other products include Gunsmoke puzzles,[66]


  • Dell Comics published numerous issues of their Four Color comics series on Gunsmoke[67] (including issues #679, 720, 769, 797, 844 and, in 1958–1962, #6–27).[68]
  • Gold Key Comics continued with issues #1–6 in 1969–70.[67][69]
  • A comic strip version of the series ran in British newspapers for several years under the show's UK title, Gun Law.
  • Hardcover comic BBC Gunsmoke Annuals were marketed in Great Britain under the authority of the BBC which had broadcasting rights there.[70]
  • Gunsmoke comics in Spanish were published under the title Aventura la ley del revolver[71] (Gun-Law Adventures).


  • In 1957, Ballantine Books published a collection of short stories.[72] Each story is based on a half-hour Gunsmoke episode. Although a photo of James Arness and the CBS TV logo are on the book cover, in at least one story Matt introduces Chester as "Chester Proudfoot", an indication that the stories are actually adapted from radio scripts.
  • Whitman Books published
    • Gunsmoke by Robert Turner in 1958, and
    • Gunsmoke: "Showdown on Front Street"[73] by Paul S. Newman in 1969 ...
  • In 1970, Popular Library published the following paperback book written by Chris Stratton:
    • Gunsmoke
  • In 1974, Award Books published the following paperback books written by Jackson Flynn based on the television series:
    • Gunsmoke #1: "The Renegades"[74]
    • Gunsmoke #2: "Shootout"
    • Gunsmoke #3: "Duel at Dodge City"
    • Gunsmoke #4: "Cheyenne Vengeance"
  • In 1998, Boulevard Books published the following paperbacks written by Gary McCarthy based on the TV series:
    • Gunsmoke
    • Gunsmoke: "Dead Man's Witness"
    • Gunsmoke: "Marshal Festus"
  • A series of novels based upon the television series written by Joseph A. West with forewords by James Arness was published by Signet:
    • Gunsmoke: "Blood, Bullets and Buckskin", January 2005 (ISBN 0-451-21348-3)
    • Gunsmoke: "The Last Dog Soldier", May 2005 (ISBN 0-451-21491-9)
    • Gunsmoke: "Blizzard of Lead", September 2005 (ISBN 0-451-21633-4)
    • Gunsmoke: "The Reckless Gun", May 2006 (ISBN 0-451-21923-6)
    • Gunsmoke: "Dodge the Devil", October 2006 (ISBN 0-451-21972-4)
    • Gunsmoke: "The Day of the Gunfighter", January 2007 (ISBN 0-451-22015-3)
    • "Gunsmoke: An American Institution, Celebrating 50 Years of Television's Best Western" Written by Ben Costello, Foreword by Jim Byrnes, and Introduction by Jon Voight and published by Five Star Publications, Inc.(now Story Monsters LLC) Published 1 edition (December 22, 2012), ISBN 978-1589852228

Independent e-book

  • Gunsmoke: Battlefield Dodge, June 2015[75]


  • On February 12, 1993, country music artist Toby Keith released his debut single Should've Been a Cowboy. The first verse of the song references the main characters of Gunsmoke, in which Marshal Dillon never settled down with his love interest Miss Kitty.

Explanatory notes[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Dunning, John (May 7, 1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. pp. 302–306. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved July 19, 2023.
  2. ^ Smith, Cecil (September 1975). "Gunsmoke". Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ Mills, Nicholaus (June 8, 2011). "James Arness, symbol of power with restraint". The Guardian. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Horwitz, Murray (March 31, 2019). "The Big Broadcast (radio show)". WAMU. At exactly one hour into the four hour show. At one hour and thirty minutes host Horwitz cites interviews conducted on The Big Broadcast by former host John Hickman as his source for this information. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
  5. ^ "Mark Dillon Goes To Gouge Eye {Rye Billsbury} – Gunsmoke (06-11-49) – Gunsmoke –". Spotify.
  6. ^ "Mark Dillon Goes To Gouge Eye {Howard Culver} – Gunsmoke (07-13-49) – Gunsmoke –". Spotify.
  7. ^ Both versions included June Foray, Gerald Mohr, Vic Perrin and Jay Novello in the cast.
  8. ^ Gunsmoke 2 Volume Set: A Complete History and Analysis of the Legendary Broadcast Series with a Comprehensive Episode-By-Episode Guide to Both the Radio and Television Programs – Suzanne Barabas and Gabor Barabas
  9. ^ "Matt Dillon's character grew out of Bill Conrad",
  10. ^ "On radio's Gunsmoke, Doc Adams' real name was Dr. Calvin Moore",
  11. ^ "The Six-Gun Galahad". Time. March 30, 1959. Archived from the original on February 14, 2008.
  12. ^ Time, 1953
  13. ^ "Weeks of Prestige". Time. March 23, 1953. p. 106.
  14. ^ Burris, Joe (May 10, 2005). "The Eastern Earps". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
  15. ^ Gunsmoke Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved October 23, 2014
  16. ^ "Raymond Burr auditioned for the role of television's Matt Dillon",
  17. ^ a b O'Hallaren, Bill (August 23, 1975). "When Chester Forgot to Limp, and other fond recollections of 20 years of Gunsmoke" (PDF). TV Guide. Retrieved June 26, 2022.
  18. ^ Stone, Robert (2011). Day Hikes Around Ventura County. Day Hike Books. p. 216. ISBN 978-1573420624.
  19. ^ Maulhardt, Jeffrey Wayne (2010). Conejo Valley. Arcadia Publishing. p. 56. ISBN 978-0738580395.
  20. ^ "Locally filmed Westerns 'Butch Cassidy,' 'Gunsmoke' part of Conejo film fest".
  21. ^ Associated Press, July 2, 2002, Bob Thomas.
  22. ^ "The Gunsmoke Theme",
  23. ^ "Tex Ritter sings Gunsmoke",
  24. ^ a b MacDonald 1987, p. 99
  25. ^ "TV Ratings: 1956–1957". Archived from the original on February 21, 2023. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  26. ^ "TV Ratings: 1957–1958". Archived from the original on February 21, 2023. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  27. ^ "TV Ratings: 1958–1959". Archived from the original on February 21, 2023. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  28. ^ "TV Ratings: 1959–1960". Archived from the original on February 21, 2023. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  29. ^ "TV Ratings: 1960–1961". Archived from the original on February 21, 2023. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  30. ^ "TV Ratings: 1961–1962". Archived from the original on February 21, 2023. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  31. ^ "TV Ratings: 1962–1963". Archived from the original on February 21, 2023. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  32. ^ "TV Ratings: 1963–1964". Archived from the original on February 22, 2023. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  33. ^ "TV Ratings: 1964–1965". Archived from the original on February 22, 2023. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  34. ^ "TV Ratings: 1965–1966". Archived from the original on June 8, 2017. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  35. ^ "TV Ratings: 1967–1968". Archived from the original on February 21, 2023. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  36. ^ "TV Ratings: 1968–1969". Archived from the original on February 21, 2023. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  37. ^ "TV Ratings: 1969–1970". Archived from the original on February 21, 2023. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  38. ^ "TV Ratings: 1970–1971". Archived from the original on February 21, 2023. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  39. ^ "TV Ratings: 1971–1972". Archived from the original on April 11, 2015. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  40. ^ "TV Ratings: 1972–1973". Archived from the original on April 11, 2015. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  41. ^ "TV Ratings: 1973–1974". Archived from the original on February 3, 2011. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  42. ^ "TV Ratings: 1974–1975". Archived from the original on February 3, 2011. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  43. ^ Classic black and white episodes of Gunsmoke at
  44. ^ Heldenfels, Rich (July 23, 2017). "Heldenfels' Mailbag: 'The Little Couple,' Jean Peters, game show prizes". Akron Beacon-Journal. Archived from the original on November 7, 2017. Retrieved September 30, 2018.
  45. ^ April 17 – 23, 1993, issue of TV Guide that celebrated the 40th anniversary of television and the best television programs of all time.
  46. ^ "100 Greatest Moments in Television",
  47. ^ "The 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time",
  48. ^ "CBS's best western",
  49. ^ "Special Collector's Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide. June 28 – July 4, 1997.
  50. ^ "TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows", TV Guide, May 4, 2002.
  51. ^ "TV Guide Magazine's 60 Best Series of All Time". TV Guide. December 23, 2013.
  52. ^ "101 Best Written TV Series". Writers Guild of America West. June 2, 2013.
  53. ^ Andrews, Travis M. (March 20, 2019). "Jay-Z, a speech by Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and 'Schoolhouse Rock!' among recordings deemed classics by Library of Congress". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
  54. ^ " TV Ratings > 1970's". Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  55. ^ Ausiello, Michael (March 29, 2019). "Law & Order: SVU Renewed for Season 21 at NBC, Will Become Longest-Running Live-Action Series in History". TVLine. Archived from the original on March 29, 2019. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  56. ^ Alexander, Bryan (February 24, 2022). "'Law & Order' returns: Sam Waterston on what to expect, and losing coveted TV record to 'SVU'". USA Today. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
  57. ^ "'The Simpsons' set to be the longest-running scripted TV show ever". November 6, 2016.
  58. ^ "Taggart police drama axed by ITV". BBC News. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  59. ^ "What do Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), Matt Dillon (James Arness) and Doc Adams (Milburn Stone) have in common?"
  60. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (March 29, 2019). "'Law & Order: SVU' Renewed For Record-Breaking 21st Season By NBC As Dick Wolf & Mariska Hargitay Write TV History". Deadline Hollywood. Los Angeles, California: Penske Media Corporation.
  61. ^ "The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum",
  62. ^ "Today's Dodge City",
  63. ^ Tanner, Beccy (August 14, 2015). "Surviving 'Gunsmoke' cast to reunite in Dodge City six decades after show's start". The Wichita Eagle. Retrieved June 26, 2022.
  64. ^ "Gunsmoke was used to sell cottage cheese",
  65. ^ "Gunsmoke board games",
  66. ^ "Gunsmoke puzzles were popular in 1950s",
  67. ^ a b "". Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  68. ^ Gunsmoke Dell Comic #15, June–July 1959, "Masked Vigilantes".
  69. ^ Gunsmoke Gold Key Comic, February–March 1970, "The Prophet" "The Guilty One"
  70. ^ Gunsmoke Annual 1974, Comic Collection.
  71. ^ Aventura la ley del revolver, Gunsmoke comic book in Spanish, December 1960.
  72. ^ Don Ward, Gunsmoke – Adventures of Marshal Matt Dillon, Ballantine Books, 1957. (Second edition released in 1960.)
  73. ^ S. Newman, Showdown on Front Street[permanent dead link], Whitman Books, 1969.
  74. ^ Jackson Flynn, The Renegades, Award Books, 1974.
  75. ^ "Home". April 19, 2017. Archived from the original on April 19, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]