Life in Dodge City

The longest-running television western, Gunsmoke is also referred as a game changer, since it altered the way the western shows were seen until it first aired. Before, any western was supposed to have panoramic shots, or massive herds of cattle roaming all around, or Indians fighting the US cavalry – these were a must and became necessary for a show or film to be considered in this genre.

But Gunsmoke changed all that and compressed the story to the everyday life of the characters, thus shifting the focus from action to character development. And it worked very well, since it lasted for 20 seasons.

While it did have its fair share of shootouts and bank robberies (and even cattle rustling), the producers intended (and succeeded) to present life as it was in a community. So Dodge is in itself a character in the series, being like an outpost of civilization where US ended or where the wilderness began.

And it is a blueprint followed by many western films and series afterwards, in which the small town or city is described as self-sufficient, having its own professionals, having its own institutions, and being constantly surrounded by the danger coming from the outside.

In this way, despite all the bad things that may happen in Dodge City, it is a rather idyllic place, a peaceful and harmonic place where justice always prevails.

And this also means something else, beyond the lives of the characters, or maybe above these all: it is the perfect medium in which the traditional American values can be put under a magnifying glass and analyzed. And so you can see as the show unfolds as some questions are asked, questions concerning the rights of the minorities, or the use of violence when it is justified (or not) by the law, and so on.

So the innovation can be seen not just in the focus on the life of the characters, but even in the ideas these characters expressed.

So, as a conclusion, I can say that Gunsmoke was the perfect medium in which character, idea and action could have appeared together, intertwined.


  1. Greg Oberlin says:

    How true a synopsis of this program. And happy endings didn’t always happen either. A show that did value goodness but not without a price at times.

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