Television has its share of shows that redefine how a television show must be made. And during the 1950s, one of the defining TV shows of the time is Gunsmoke. A TV series that depicted life during the American West settlement era, it has received tremendous praise because of the amount of realism and accuracy it has.
In a way, this show has somehow gone beyond what’s stereotypically expected from a Western TV series. How did it made an impact on American television?
Impact is often measured in terms of longevity. And when it comes to longevity, Gunsmoke is one of the longest ones in American TV history. From 1955-1975, it made the transition from being an equally successful radio show to one of the most influential TV series of all time. During the time, it has become the benchmark on how the Western TV show must be made. In fact, during its 20 years of existence, 30 Western-themed TV shows came and went, including the likes of Bonanza and Alias Smith and Jones. Such longevity is a testament to this show’s overwhelming success.
Often, the success of a television show is predicated on how strong its ratings are. And in this regard, Gunsmoke more than holds its own. During the 20 years that this show was in production, its ratings are consistently among the highest. From 1955-1961, this 30-minute show was broadcasted on CBS at 10pm during Saturdays. From 1961 onwards, the show was expanded into an hourly. Its time slot was then transferred on Mondays from 1967-1975. Its ratings have remained strong for the entire 20-year run, though it enjoyed its best ratings during its run as a 30-minute show.
One of the startling facts about this TV show’s existence is how it somehow lasted as long as it did. But contrary to popular belief, there are times when this show was supposed to be cancelled, with the most serious plan to cancel it happening in 1967. But fan reaction prevented it from being cancelled. In fact, the impending cancellation was even mentioned during a session in Congress. And it’s no less than the wife of the CBS president that persuaded that the TV show must not be cancelled. As such, the show continued on its new Monday timeslot, with Gilligan’s Island instead being cut from programming.
But as startling as its ridiculous level of longevity is, it’s how it left that makes people scratch its head. Despite the loss of Amanda Blake, one of the main stars of the show, Gunsmoke continues to be as strong as ever, keeping its hold as one of the 30 most-watched programs in terms of ratings. But in spite of this, the show was abruptly cancelled. In fact, some cast members, including leading actor James Arness, was surprised about the sudden cancellation, saying that no “final episode” was filmed and CBS didn’t mention any plans of scrapping the show. And most fans agree that no solid conclusion was made for the show.
Gunsmoke, in more ways than one, is one of the most successful American TV shows ever produced. As can be seen in facts both statistical and non-statistical, its impact on American television is undeniable.