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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

GUNSMOKE

GUNSMOKE
Commentary via my pal and wordslinger extraordinaire 
Mark Ellis

On this date in 1955, what became the gold standard of TV westerns debuted--GUNSMOKE. The show had already been very successful on radio and made an easy transition to TV. The first episode was introduced by John Wayne.

Like STAR TREK a decade later, the GUNSMOKE TV series made icons out of the characters and the actors who played them, particularly James Arness as Matt Dillon.

Unlike a lot of other so-called TV tough guys, James Arness didn't need to posture or swagger to give the impression he was authentic. A wounded combat vet (shot to hell at Anzio), all he had to do was stand there.

I didn't see the half-hour GUNSMOKE episodes until the last ten years when Encore's Western Channel began airing them...for that matter, when the show became an hour long in the early 60s, I don't recall seeing all that many episodes, either.

It either came on too late or my parents thought it was too adult.
GUNSMOKE was definitely adult for the standards of the time...but despite some of the very dark episodes such as "The Cabin", the plot was less important than the very human story of the people caught up in it.

Watching GUNSMOKE now, I'm impressed by the depth of the writing and quality of characterization, as well as the sympathetic and respectful portrayal of Native Americans. Almost always, when an episode dealt with a white man versus Indian conflict, Matt Dillon took the side of the Indians.

In fact, the late Burt Reynolds first came to prominence playing half-Comanche blacksmith Quint Asper for several seasons.

Amanda Blake as hard-edged, independent Kitty Russell was definitely not like any female continuing character in a network TV series at the time.

For the most part, the production values were first-rate, motion-picture quality, especially when the show went to color in 1966.
Just like great music out lives the era in which it was composed, so do great TV series.

Airing until 1975, GUNSMOKE deservedly held the record for the longest running drama in prime time until just recently when it was surpassed by Law & Order...

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