Gunsmoke remains a legendary television series with the Western drama still holding the record for most scripted episodes of any U.S. primetime television series at 635. Nineteen of those episodes that aired in the first half of the sixth season, from September 3, 1960 to January 21, 1961, are included in a three DVD-set now available from CBS DVD.
Created by director Norman MacDonnell and writer John Meston, Gunsmoke began in 1952 as radio show, set in Dodge City, Kansas during the 1870s with Marshal Matt Dillon doing his best to keep law and order with the help of his friends Chester, Doc Adams, and Miss Kitty. The radio show ran for nine years and was adapted for TV in 1955 with a new, more visually appealing cast: James Arness as Dillon, Dennis Weaver as Chester, Milburn Stone as Doc, and Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty.
The sixth season is notable for a few reasons. It was the last time the series ranked number one (17,605,600 viewers/37.3 rating), which it had been the previous three seasons as well; it ran concurrently with the final year of the radio series; and the following season would see the episodes expanded to run an hour.
In the first episode, “Friends Payoff,” Dillon is presented with an intriguing scenario, as he has to determine if his friend Ab, who shows up to town with a bullet in his back, is a bank robber. It serves as a great introduction for those who don’t know the series. Dillon is a noble man who strives to do what is right. We later see you shouldn’t badmouth a fella’s bride or you could get belted for it. Chester serves as Dillon’s deputy and Doc is willing to help out when needed above and beyond medical matters. Miss Kitty works at a saloon though her full duties aren’t mentioned.
Many of the episodes set up similar dilemmas and mysteries for Marshal Dillon and citizens of Dodge as many troublemakers pass through town and quite a few folks end up dead. But trouble isn’t restricted to Dodge as Dillon finds trouble beyond the city limits when escorting a killer to Wichita (“Shooting Stopover”) and dealing with a crooked sheriff in Tuscaloosa (“The Peace Officer”). Though the eventual outcomes aren’t surprising with good triumphing over evil, Meston, who wrote or co-wrote every episode, presents engaging stories that could have been set in any time period, and the cast brings to life enjoyable characters worth revisiting.
As is typical with classic TV shows, there are a lot of familiar faces, such as George Kennedy, Warren Oates, Denver Pyle, Buddy Ebsen, and Strother Martin. Some faces may become familiar due to the casting directors pulling from a small pool of actors. For example, Rex Holman plays Leroy Pickett in “Small Water” only to turn up nine episodes later as Pete Mossman in “No Chip.”
Gunsmoke‘s appeal is obvious after watching one episode, and it is recommended to fans of classic TV and Westerns who haven’t experienced it yet. Season 6, Volume 2 will be released October 16, 2012 for those looking to complete the set.