Gunsmoke producers kept Burt Reynolds' role small out of fear he would take over the show

"Innately, he’s a leading man, which creates something of a problem for us," one producer admitted.

The Everett Collection

Though he was only in three seasons of Gunsmoke, Burt Reynolds appeared in 50 episodes. He joined the show in season eight – one of many changes the iconic Western went through in the mid-Sixties. Beloved sidekick Chester left the next season, replaced by the fun-loving but often ornery Festus Haggen. All three characters actually appeared in one memorable episode. Soon after that, the show switched to color!

In 1962, Gunsmoke took a chance on a young actor best known in Hollywood at that time for burning bridges on his last series, Riverboat. That actor was of course Burt Reynolds, who demanded to be released from his first regular TV role because he was bored with the character and clashed with star Darren McGavin. Still not mincing words years later, Reynolds told TV Guide “I will say this about McGavin, he is going to be a very disappointed man on the first Easter after his death.”

Reynolds’ behind-the-scenes squabbles didn’t keep him from getting regular guest spots, however. He appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Naked City, Route 66 and Perry Mason not to mention movies like Angel Baby and Armored Command in between Riverboat and his next regular series role: Quint Asper in Gunsmoke.

The producers in charge of filling TV’s Dodge City with entertaining characters could easily see Reynolds’ talent and charisma, but that’s also what made them wary. Quint was seldom put front and center, especially starting out, for fear he would naturally take over the spotlight.

Talking to TV Guide about the recently hired Reynolds, Gunsmoke producer Norman MacDonnell said, “I have the feeling that if he ever got the bit in his teeth, he’d run away with it. He’s not afraid of man, beast or God.”

But Reynolds got along great with his Gunsmoke castmates. He even named two of them, and a favorite Star Trek guest star, when talking about the best actors to work with. “I’ve worked with nice guys in this business—guys like Jim Arness and Milburn Stone and Ricardo Montalbán, guys who go out of their way to help you all they can.”

Even though he was only in three seasons, and somewhat sidelined for much of that time, Reynolds was a fan-favorite who was frequently mentioned in letters about the show.

MacDonnell could see his new actor’s potential from the beginning. “Innately, he’s a leading man, which creates something of a problem for us. We can’t use him as such.” It seems both Reynolds and the show’s producers knew he was destined for bigger things.

Reynolds told TV Guide his main philosophy in acting, “I don’t care how good or bad I am so long as I’m not dull.”

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Patrick 20 months ago
One night I talked to Buck Taylor on the telephone. This was the late '70s, I lived in Virginia, and in the middle of the night after the locals had signed off, the only TV station that was on / could be received was WFMY in Greensboro, NC. On my day (night?) off around 3AM I turned it on and they were doing the Easter Seals Telethon and Buck was one of the celebrity guests. Just for the hell of it, I called them long distance and told the person who answered, "I'll donate $15 if I can talk to Buck." The lady said "Hang on, I'll go get him!" And in a few seconds, there was was. I talked to him for about five minutes, asked him a few questions about the show, told him how my grandparents had watched every single episode since it debuted in 1955, and just chatted. Nice guy!
Robertp 20 months ago
Buck Taylor, son of Dub Taylor, and Roger Ewing are still with us. I think they are the last of the GS cast. They gave fantastic performances and will forever be held in high esteem by this Gunsmoke fan. You guys are the best.
RichLorn 20 months ago
I liked the Quint character (which I liked to call Squint). Plus the town should have a blacksmith. He was certainly miles better than the guy playing Thad, who looked completely miscast. And Newley didn't have the physique to wear his 10 gallon hat. He looked like a walking mushroom.
PedroAlvarado RichLorn 20 months ago
Buck Taylor was a star gymnast at USC and had an excellent physique. But that hat looked awful. They could have found him one that was much sharper and more flattering.
PulsarStargrave 20 months ago
WOW, this is a bombshell! In an interview Burt said the reason why he was released from Gunsmoke is because someone told him he "...couldn't act"! My eyes glazed over because I thought he was light years better than the one who played the forgettable "Thad" character! I never suspected something else was going on! I doubt James Arness was involved because he was sharp enough to see there was money in a potential spin off starring Reynolds! It's just a shame Burt didn't live to see this besmirchment on his career debunked but he seemed to bounce back, and that's putting it mildly!
Where did you see that? You're very mistaken. He said in his autobiography that he quit because when he was signed for the role, he was told he would be Dennis Weaver's replacement. But when Ken Curtis was hired, it was clear to him that Curtis was going to replace Dennis Weaver and Burt was going to be the show's third banana. He left with "no hard feelings toward anyone."
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327053 20 months ago
Yes same here! KDBC took off my MeTV! 🥹
UTZAAKE 20 months ago
Somewhat reminds me of Denzel Washington on St. Elsewhere. Not the star because he was part of an ensemble cast. Like Reynolds, his performances showed he had "it."
PedroAlvarado 20 months ago
No, producer Norman Macdonnell didn't keep Burt's Role "small." That is very far off the mark.

He said during the show's eighth season, which was Burt's first, that Burt was really a leading man, which made it tricky to fit him in. But he was high on Burt and said that Burt would make an even bigger impact in the ninth season. So what went wrong?

Two things. First, Dennis Weaver had left the show after the seventh season but then asked to come back in the eighth season. Then Weaver quit again, but in the ninth season he came back again! This hampered the writers' efforts to transition from Chester to Quin, and it muted Quint's impact.

The second thing that happened was an even greater setback for Burt. In the ninth season Ken Curtis joined the show as Festus and immediately upstaged Burt!

Burt saw that this was going to set back his career, so he quit halfway through the tenth season, before he suffered any more damage.

In hindsight, Buck Taylor would have worked better as Quint. He was at the right level for that role.
harlow1313 PedroAlvarado 20 months ago
Well, I think Mr. Reynolds would have been a more compelling Gunsmoke character had he dressed as a saloon girl.
LoveMETV22 harlow1313 20 months ago
LOL. That probably would have gone over like it did on Leave it to Beaver " Wally's Play."

Where Wally had to play a Saloon Girl to become a member of " The Crusaders "

𝗪𝗮𝗹𝗹𝘆: " 𝗡𝗼, 𝘀𝗶𝗿. 𝗡𝗼𝘁𝗵𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗱𝗼𝗶𝗻𝗴. 𝗜'𝗺 𝗾𝘂𝗶𝘁𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗖𝗿𝘂𝘀𝗮𝗱𝗲𝗿𝘀.
𝗜'𝗹𝗹 𝗾𝘂𝗶𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝗰𝗵𝗼𝗼𝗹.
𝗜'𝗹𝗹 𝗾𝘂𝗶𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘄𝗵𝗼𝗹𝗲
𝘁𝗼𝘄𝗻 𝗶𝗳 𝗜 𝗵𝗮𝘃𝗲 𝘁𝗼."
Burt said in an interview that he was essentially fired from Gunsmoke because he was told he couldn't act!
Cite a source for that.
LoveMETV22 PulsarStargrave 20 months ago
LOL Burt always enjoyed telling the story about him and Eastwood, spicing it where he could.
Michael 20 months ago
Thunderbirds 6am Sundays? That's news to me.
LoveMETV22 Michael 20 months ago
Yes, Thunderbirds starts tomorrow. Also another Sunday Block 9/11/22 , thought it would be The Brady Bunch, but it's A Sunday Afternoon Block of The Andy Griffith Show.
Michael LoveMETV22 20 months ago
I didn't see a story or quiz about Thunderbirds, or even an announcement of a new schedule
LoveMETV22 Michael 20 months ago
No story or Quiz they added it to the Schedule Link a little over a week ago. The added it to the Shows link yesterday I think. Not a lot of fanfare with it.
LoveMETV22 Michael 20 months ago
If you click on the PDF Schedule: it goes back to the Main page. They probably have it that way for when they make changes for the Fall Schedule, that way they don't have to update it more than necessary. ( Just a guess).
LoveMETV22 Michael 20 months ago
PS- Update: If you click on the PDF Schedule now it will show the few changes made
Effective 9/4/22.
Michael LoveMETV22 20 months ago
But why would I check the pdf? It used to be a schedule change meant a post telling us that. Nothing, and nothing about Thunderbirds, though a search shows some from about 2016.

LoveMETV22 Michael 20 months ago
I usually check the PDF when I notice a new show- They may do a story on the addition and just haven't yet. I don't know if you looked at the PDF yet, but it appears the Sunday Block Party is going beyond the summer and a certain show on Sunday between TAGS and M*A*S*H is taking a hiatus- however a side story not on this website shows that particular program has been renewed for a Season 4 and will air in 2023. So the Shows Link and PDF Schedule links tell a bit of what changes they're making ahead of time ( before they post an article about it- "Sometimes").
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Hurleywood 20 months ago
My affiliate in Lexington, Ky. dropped it also. This is bad!
AgingDisgracefully 20 months ago
Isn't anger, ow-rage or disappointment better directed at the individual stations?
MeTV is just pawn in world of past sell-by telly.
(PS: Reynolds had a fevered ego? I'm shocked! SHOCKED!!)
Ric 20 months ago
Greetings. Gunsmoke was/is a staple at my house. Some fine actors and strong acting.
Great Job!
cperrynaples 20 months ago
Burt never made it to color Gunsmoke! The same year that happened, Burt got to star on Hawk, a lost police show!
Runeshaper 20 months ago
Burt Reynolds was AWESOME! (-:
StrayCat 20 months ago
I always thought when Gunsmoke went color it lost something. Probably its grittiness.
Sway 20 months ago
Didn't get into Gunsmoke that much, don't remember Darrin McGavin in it, definitely remember Burt Reynolds. Producers were right, he was a leading man.
PedroAlvarado Sway 20 months ago
What changed was that producer Norman Macdonnell was fired halfway through the tenth season for giving an interview in which he criticized the censors at CBS. The show also lost its top two writers. Kathleen Hite quit because she was outraged by Macdonnell's firing, and John Meston quit because he was burned out. James Arness got control of the show and softened it. It ran for ten more seasons but wasn't as good.
logicgrrl Sway 20 months ago
Darren McGavin wasn't on Gunsmoke. He co-starred with Burt on Riverboat. It says that right in the story.
MarkSpeck logicgrrl 20 months ago
McGavin did guest-star on Gunsmoke, sometime after Reynolds left. Who the devil DIDN'T guest-star on Gunsmoke? LOL!
StrayCat logicgrrl 20 months ago
Actually, Darren McGavin was in no less than three different Gunsmoke episodes.
Andybandit 20 months ago
That was too bad that Burt didn't have a bigger role on Gunsmoke. He was good in it.
MrsPhilHarris 20 months ago
I wonder what happened with Darren McGavin. 🤔
harlow1313 MrsPhilHarris 20 months ago
He went on to win an Italian lamp shaped like a woman's leg. Fra-gi-le'!
cperrynaples harlow1313 20 months ago
The old man in A Christmas Story! Remember when Ralphie said "OH FUDGE", and it was really something else? Let's just say he got a mouthful of Lifebuoy...LOL! And how could you forget Kolchak? It's on every Saturday after Star Trek!
MrsPhilHarris harlow1313 20 months ago
Lol yeah he did but why did Reynolds dislike him so much? 🤔 It couldn’t be because he won a leg lamp.
harlow1313 cperrynaples 20 months ago
We teenage boys loved the original TV movie, "The Nightstalker." I still remember how we discussed it the next day at school. It was a communal experience.
SteveMcnary MrsPhilHarris 20 months ago
I saw an interview with Burt who said he was tired of McGavin harassing an actress on the show & he picked him up & threw him off the boat into the water. He was fired immediately.
MarkSpeck MrsPhilHarris 20 months ago
As good as an actor as he was, McGavin could be difficult at times. He also made no apologies if he played a character who was brutal, i.e., when he played Mike Hammer (the series he did directly before Riverboat). He had no problem striking a woman on-camera.
MrsPhilHarris SteveMcnary 20 months ago
Oh wow! 😲 That is interesting.
Pacificsun 20 months ago
It's no wonder some of these actors go crazy after awhile. And then when they react, they get a bad name for themselves. Let's look at the pattern here. Beside innate talent for the craft, what makes an actor memorable is their confidence, their instinct for a role (meaning how they fit into an ensemble), drive (motivation), and a memorable personality. So producers want all of that. Then they're afraid they've got too much of it. And pigeon-hold the actor. And for every bit they do that, they're holding the actor back from more opportunity. All we remember is the bad name (if they earn it) yet no one takes the time to figure out their frustration. Yeah, it's a business for which they need not apply. But a lot of people in normal work settings couldn't deal with it. After all, most of them don't have to keep looking for a job every few years.
LoveMETV22 20 months ago
Thanks MeTV Staff, Interesting story. Glad to read Burt got along great with his Gunsmoke cast mates.
I can't imagine the opening credits saying " Gunsmoke, starring Burt Reynolds as Matt Dillon. " Whew.
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