Did we just completely use up all the storylines for Westerns during the 1950s and 1960s? How can you explain that a whole genre of programming is completely absent from television today and yet was so dominant back then? And the most dominant of them all was Gunsmoke.
The Western reached its zenith in the late 1950s, when as many as 40 were on at the same time. Remember, there were only three networks at the time. Gunsmoke began its run as a radio program, with portly William Conrad providing the voice of Matt Dillon. It’s said the producers wanted John Wayne for the TV version, but Wayne wouldn’t commit to a TV series. Instead, he recommended his friend James Arness.
Marshal Dillon dealt with typical problems of the West – cattle rustling, gunfights, brawls, and the rest. He had an assistant (first Chester Goode then Festus Haggen), a confidant (Doc Adams), and a, uh, well…”girlfriend,” Miss Kitty.
Gunsmoke ran on CBS for 20 years and, with 635 episodes, still ranks as America’s longest-running prime time drama. It was the top-rated show on TV between 1957 and 1961, and remained a top-rated show throughout its run. Entertainment Weekly ranked Gunsmoke as the number 16 show in its ranking of the Top 100 TV Shows of all time.