Back in 1966, CBS started shifting many of its prime-time shows to color. “Gunsmoke” appeared in glorious TV color on this day.
The updated show opener features James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon. He squares off with another gunslinger in the main street of Dodge City, Kan.
Check out this video from Silver Age Television’s Twitter account. This opening will remain a part of “Gunsmoke” through its last show on CBS.
Arness stayed with the TV show throughout its 20-season tenure on CBS. It became the longest-running Western series on network television. Only “Bonanza” on NBC comes a close second to it.
Other cast members included Amanda Blake, Milburn Stone, Ken Curtis, Buck Taylor, Dennis Weaver, and Burt Reynolds. Both Weaver and Reynolds left “Gunsmoke” in order to pursue other TV and movie projects.
‘Gunsmoke’ Actually Got Its Start On Radio With William Conrad As Dillon
For older Outsiders who were around for radio show days, this Western built up an audience through the CBS Radio Network. Actor William Conrad, who later would be a private investigator on the 1970s show “Cannon,” was the voice of Matt Dillon. Conrad, for animation fans, also provided his voice-over work in the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoons.
The radio show ran from 1952-61 and was able to sustain its growth even with the TV show.
“Gunsmoke” also became quite popular with CBS executives and their families. At one point, there was talk in the network headquarters in New York City about ending the Western. “Gilligan’s Island” was actually getting solid ratings. There was chatter that it should be on at a better time.
CBS Chairman’s Wife Made Sure Western Stayed and ‘Gilligan’s Island’ Went
As the story goes, the wife of CBS Chairman William Paley was a big “Gunsmoke” fan. She didn’t like the possibility of having Matt Dillon go away for good.
So she approached Paley and asked him to keep “Gunsmoke” as part of the lineup. He agreed and “Gilligan’s Island” simply went off the air after three seasons. It led off the network’s Monday night lineup, but the Dodge City Western moved from Sundays to Mondays.
If you happened to catch “Gunsmoke” in its early seasons, then the show ran in a 30-minute block from 1955-61. Starting with the 1961-62 season, it turned into a 60-minute show and stayed that way through 1975.
One lady who was extremely upset about the show ultimately being canceled in 1975 was Blake, who played Miss Kitty.
According to Greenland’s book, “The Gunsmoke Chronicles: A New History of Television’s Greatest Western,” Blake was ready to show executives exactly how she felt. Once while passing CBS offices in New York City, she said: “I think I’ll go in there and hit Bill Paley over the head with a brickbat.”