On this day, 46 years ago, it was a sad day for western fans. On that day, the sun set on Doge City and its beloved characters from “Gunsmoke.” As one of the most prolific and longest-running westerns in all of television history, you would assume that “Gunsmoke,” ended its run with guns blazing and a fiery shootout. However, this was not the case.
After decades of episodes, the show mysteriously ended its 20-year stint; it vanished from the air. There was no buildup, no warning, no farewell or fanfare.
The final episode of “Gunsmoke,” titled “The Sharecroppers,” marked the 635th episode. Free from villains or high amounts of drama, the last episode was light-hearted.
As you would imagine, when the viewers found out that the show would not make its return— they were not happy. And neither was the cast. According to David R. Greenland’s book The Gunsmoke Chronicles: A New History of Television’s Greatest Western, the cancelation was a surprise for everyone.
“All of us were ready… for one more season of Gunsmoke,” James Arness, who played Marshal Matt Dillon, recalled. “CBS had led us downstream and then, when we were down to the wire, they dropped the ax.”
Cast & Crew of ‘Gunsmoke’ Shocked by Show’s Cancellation
Even the show’s crew had no idea. “Gunsmoke” producer John Mantley got word of the cancellation via The Hollywood Reporter’s front page.
In addition to Arness, Amanda Blake, who starred as Miss Kitty, was up in arms over it. She had left the show after its 19th season and was not involved with the final season. Nevertheless, she was mad. According to Blake, she was disappointed in the way CBS handled the cancellation.
“Amanda Blake was in New York shortly after the series was canceled,” Greenland wrote in his The Gunsmoke Chronicles, “Riding past CBS headquarters, she remarked, ‘I think I’ll go in there and hit [CBS president] Bill Paley over the head with a brickbat.'”
More so, the network had tried to cancel the show years earlier. A few years before the official cancellation, CBS attempted to take “Gunsmoke” off the air but was unsuccessful after fans put a kibosh on the idea. After dealing with an angry mob for even mentioning the idea, the network renewed the show.
After the abrupt ending, Arness found himself without a gig. However, he had no problems jumping back into the saddle. MGM approached Arness to help them create a reboot of the 1962 film, How the West Was Won.
After its initial success, creators turned How the West Was Won into a series, which ran for three seasons. “We were off and running on that show within days, actually, of cancelation of Gunsmoke,” Arness explained to the Archive of American Television.