One of TV’s longest TV shows, “Gunsmoke” ran for 20 seasons on the air. But the classic western was actually canceled after 12 seasons. It took something of a miracle to bring the show back.
For 12 seasons, audiences watched the adventures of Matt Dillion and the gang out in Dodge City, Kansas. Dodge City was a real western location back in the 1800s. And the hit TV series made the area look perilous with dangers at every corner. Townsfolk would often encounter bandits or natives. Sometimes, they would find themselves in trouble that they had to outsmart rather than outgun their way out of.
The location was instantly iconic with places like the Long Branch Saloon, which Miss Kitty co-owned. For over a decade, both the network and the actual town benefitted from high ratings and popularity. But according to Looper, when rating slipped, CBS decided to put the western out to pasture.
It took an act of Congress to resurrect the show for a 13th season.
The Kansas Legislature partnered with the Dodge City Commission to support the show. They issued resolutions to CBS in an effort to bring the show back. One of the show’s biggest advocates was Senator Robert Byrd, who discussed the show on the Senate floor. That pressure from Congress proved to be instrumental in CBS changing its mind.
But it doesn’t hurt that CBS Chairman William S. Paley’s wife was a fan. When the show was canceled, she complained to her husband about the show ending. Finally, Paley relented and brought back “Gunsmoke.” Unfortunately for “Gilligan’s Island” fans, that show was canceled instead. Skipper may never have escaped the island (at least in the original run). But Matt Dillion was back.
‘Gunsmoke’ and the Rural Purge
For another eight seasons, “Gunsmoke” entertained audiences with its patented blend of western thrills. But not even a Congressional hearing could keep the show on the air past 1975. During the 1970s, CBS and other networks began what has become infamously known as the “rural purge.”
The western was still popular. But CBS wanted to focus on other demographics. They realized much of their programs catered to rural or older audiences. Instead, they wanted to attract younger, urban audiences, which were a bigger hit with advertising. Thus, the network canceled a host of its rural programming including “Gunsmoke.”
But everything has to end eventually. And 20 years on the air is quite the achievement.