‘Gunsmoke’: James Arness Speaks on the Show’s Major Changes Throughout the Years in 2002 Interview

by Will Shepard
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Gunsmoke long held the record as one of the longest-running shows on television. The show ran from 1955 to 1975, always adapting and changing to fit the times. Audiences couldn’t seem to get enough of Marshal Matt Dillon and the gang.

However, one of the changes that happened early on for the show was that the episodes became an hour long. Before the seventh season, the episodes were only half an hour long. It seemed that there was always something new for the show. The one constant for Gunsmoke was James Arness and Milburn Stone. With Amanda Blake appearing as Miss Kitty for 19 of the 20 seasons.

In 1966, after season eleven, CBS tried to push Gunsmoke to air 90-minute episodes. But, James Arness was vehemently opposed to this move.

On May 8, 1966, The Bridgeport Post sat down with James Arness to talk about the show. In the article that was written about Gunsmoke’s leading actor, they note his opposition to elongating the episodes.

“Arness opposed the scheme,” the paper said. “It would have meant shooting two units simultaneously and diluting the show’s quality.”

Even though an hour and a half was not a foreign concept to Western television shows, Arness did not like the idea. When he was making certain that CBS did not follow through with the 90-minute episodes, he cited another show – Wagon Train. This show had gone from an hour to an hour and a half, then back to episodes that were only an hour long.

‘Gunsmoke’ Made Other Big Changes to the Show Instead

That same year, in 1966, CBS, the show made arguably its biggest change. Gunsmoke transitioned from black-and-white and moved to color. This made the show have to do several things differently. One major change was that CBS began promoting the show much more heavily.

Consequently, James Arness had to do far more publicity stints on behalf of Gunsmoke. Even though he didn’t enjoy them, he did them anyway. While changes kept coming, Arness was never wanted Gunsmoke to change too drastically. He wanted to make sure that the show maintained its authentic Western feel.

“We’ve kept the show from becoming gaudy,” Arness said in the interview. “Towns like Dodge City were drab and dirty. We’ve maintained that flavor.”

And Arness was exactly right. That authentic “flavor” of the show helped the show continue on for more than a decade after switching to color. And is still one of the most iconic Westerns to date.

Outsider.com