The network wanted to make Gunsmoke 90 minutes long, but James Arness shot that idea down

He also proudly described the Western as "drab and dirty."

Read to Me

Gunsmoke was the show the kept growing, kept evolving, kept… going. The record-setting Western was on for 20 straight seasons, so it had to evolve and adapt. Because television looked much different in 1975 than it did in 1955.

That meant, after its sixth season, that Gunsmoke swelled from a 30-minute show to a full-hour drama. Cast members came and went, though the trio of James Arness, Amanda Blake and Milburn Stone remained at the core. In 1966, following season 11, about halfway through its run, Gunsmoke made another major advancement, from black-and-white into color.

The leap into color had some purists on edge. This is why the network made a press push to sell fans on the color show. That included getting the press-shy Arness out in public selling the show.

"Interviews are rare and personal appearances… are out," the UPI wrote of Arness, as seen in The Bridgeport Post on May 8, 1966. "It is virtually impossible to determine where Matt Dillon leaves off and James Arness begins, if indeed there is any difference at all. Both are reflective men abhorrent of small talk."

Still, the reporter was able to squeeze some behind-the-scenes details from Arness. And they are quite interesting to fans of the "adult" (Arness always made a point to label Gunsmoke an "adult" Western, to set it apart from competition more clearly catered to boys).

For example, early in 1966, CBS, the network airing Gunsmoke, pushed to make the episodes 90 minutes long. "Arness opposed the scheme," the article explained. "It would have meant shooting two units simultaneously and diluting the show's quality."

The idea of 90-minute episodes, a full movie every week, was not new to Westerns. Three years early, in 1963–64, Wagon Train had done its entire seventh season as hour-and-a-half-long episodes. For its eighth and final season, Wagon Train shrunk back to 60 minutes the following year, which speaks to the wisdom of that decision.

Arness had a clear vision for Gunsmoke and pushed to keep the series — and his personal life — to the highest quality possible.

"We've kept the show from becoming gaudy," Arness said. "Towns like Dodge City were drab and dirty. We've maintained that flavor." He promised to readers to not "pretty up" the setting for color cameras.

Arness also explained why he sold his stake in the show a few years prior. "At one point he owned the show," the journalist said, "but he sold his interest in it two years ago."

"Being an owner got to be a burden," Arness blurted. "I'm not a businessman." He loathed having to attend meetings after long days of shooting. "I wanted my weekends and evenings free to spend with the children," the star said. As much as he cared about Gunsmoke, family remained the priority.

Would you have liked to see 90-minute Gunsmoke adventures?

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Ariel 5 months ago
The hour long Gunsmoke was fine. The hour was enough to get the point of the story across, in my opinion. 90 minutes would have been too long and drawn out. How many times can Matt backhand someone, or have a drink with his friends, or how long can the writers elaborate on a concept. Thats like making a movie every week, and alot of work, when an hour is sufficient. Altho, I love the show, it might have been overkill.
EarlThomas 5 months ago
I liked it an hour long and in color though the b/w episodes are good
Ariel EarlThomas 5 months ago
The color & HD is particularly nice in some of the 1968 episodes.
F5Twitster 5 months ago
"For its eighth and final season, Wagon Train shrunk back to 60 minutes the following year, which speaks to the wisdom of that decision."

Wagon Train SHRANK (past tense, not past-perfect tense) back to 60 minutes.
RonaldWilder F5Twitster 5 months ago
I am delighted to encounter yet another compulsive proofreader besides me! We are the unsung heroes of bringing to light the rampant "languishing linguistics" that exist online....HALLELUJAH (a bit over the top, right?)!
BillyMeTV 5 months ago
My favorite episodes are the early 30 minute episodes with Dennis Weaver. They were classic westerns that defined the stereotype.
JeffPaul76 5 months ago
I disagree with most of the commenters who like the Black & White episodes better than color. I like Color ones better because you can see more detail, like Amanda Blake's (Miss Kitty) hair color, which you couldn't tell in B&W. Also the color episodes were sharper in detail.
HansShultz1 5 months ago
‘SHOT’ zat idea down! Now dat ist funny. You show zee picture uff zee Marshall holding zee gun, uhnt you say he “shot” it down.
PortelaJ 5 months ago
Agree that 90 min for a show is entirely too long. As it is now, on regular TV, I have to sit thru almost 30 min of commercials. (Sorry, no DVR) Couldn’t fathom having to watch almost 45 min of them with a 90 min show. You tend to lose some of the story line. Love me my Gunsmoke tho! (prefer B/W vs Color) Stay strong, Stay safe MeTV gang.
Wiseguy PortelaJ 5 months ago
Even in 1974-75, Gunsmoke's final season, hour episodes were still 50/51 minutes long. The most time spent on commercials for a 90-minute episode would have been 15 minutes. Even today, there's only about 20 minutes of commercials for an hour episode which would be 30 for a 90-minute episode.
texasluva 5 months ago
Would have, could have or should have. It is nice sometimes to think about changing history. This happened or that instead of what really happened. Gunsmoke lasted 20 seasons! It was mostly Great from start to finish. You never forget the main characters and those that guest stared in 1 to many episodes. Are they coming up with the lost 30 extra minute episodes? Not this time. We'll take James Arness and company just the way they were
StrayCat 5 months ago
I prefer the black and white years over the color ones because when they went to color the show lost something. In black and white Dodge was a dirty gritty frontier town, and that was lost when it went to color. I also thought the plots/episodes were better during the black and white years.
Joe1954 StrayCat 5 months ago
Not to criticize, but that reminds me of a man complaining about colorization. And he didn't like it when I pointed out that the real world isn't B&W, and us 'old geezers' who didn't have color television growing up were a shrinking market share. Colorization was to appeal to newer generations. And I fail to see Jimmy Stewart's ire over colorizing It's a Wonderful Life. The movie was a flop, and only became a 'classic' after colorization. Additionally, it wasn't 'his' movie, and the person who bought the movie and colorized it was perfectly within his rights to do with the movie as he saw fit. Really no different than selling a house (or car) and complaining when it gets painted a different color.
Wiseguy Joe1954 5 months ago
The movie became popular on TV, especially after it was mistakenly thought to be in the public domain, through repeated broadcasts, and was a "classic" by the late 1970s. It wasn't colorized until 1986. And you don't have to own the movie to be against colorization, the star of the movie has every right to be against the process. Besides, the first two colorizations were done while it was still thought to be in the public domain, so it wasn't colorized by the true owners.
Joe1954 Wiseguy 3 months ago
"Why" does anyone other than the owner have a right to be against colorization? For that matter, why does the owner have that right? First of all, you have to understand, that except in rare occasions, films were made in B&W for purely economic reasons. Color was EXPENSIVE! And you should have said "original" owner(s). The person who colorized it in 86 WAS the owner! He purchased it!
KimDee 5 months ago
Glad they left it alone. He always seemed to be spot on with his show ideas. And when it comes to family, glad some parents thought the kids were more important than money!
ELEANOR 5 months ago
Maybe they could have done one or two specials with a gripping story line; but not on a weekly basis.

After Perry Mason ended, Raymond Burr ended up doing longer "movies" because there was really so much material in each story. But as for Gunsmoke, making each episode 90 minutes long would not have worked. Besides, James Arness would have given a wooden, phoned-in performance and his family would have suffered.
Wiseguy ELEANOR 5 months ago
Raymond Burr had wanted the original series to have two-hour episodes to do justice to the novels which were adapted but CBS refused. There were still a number of novels that hadn't been adapted for the original series that could have been done for the TV movies but I have never heard of any attempt to do so (possibly the producers thought the storylines of the novels, the last of which was written by 1970, were too old hat for 1985-95), so all we got in the movies were padded storylines (from the same producers of the several Matlock 2-hour episodes). There are still eleven Erle Stanley Gardner Perry Mason novels (and one short story) which have never been adapted on film, not even counting the two published around 1990 by a different author (Thomas Chastain) which weren't adapted either even though they were set in the times of the TV Movies (with Paul Drake, Jr. as a character).
cperrynaples Wiseguy 5 months ago
Nobody has mentioned that there were Gunsmoke movies in the '80's and '90's with James Arness! The first one even had Amanda Blake and flashed back to the series!
327053 5 months ago
The Virginian! 90 minute episodes! What a feat!🤭
justjeff 5 months ago
I prefer the 30 minute Gunsmoke radio episodes with Wiliam Conrad over the TV series itself. Every story was sharp, direct and succinct. Sometime TV tends to bloat things... but that's just my opinion... and no one asked for it (or even cares abou what I think!)...
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justjeff MrsPhilHarris 5 months ago
As I've related before William Conrad was turned down for the TV role of Matt Dillon for being "too short, fat and bald"... but publicity photos for the radio show prove that the entire cast really fit their roles...

William Conrad - Matt Dillon ("Mark" Dillon in the pilot broadcast)
Georgia Ellis - Kitty
Parley Baer - Chester
Howard McNear - Doc

Here's the cast in costume, and some of them in the CBS studios...

MrsPhilHarris justjeff 5 months ago
It looks like it could be one of those old wild west snap shots. 🤠
justjeff MrsPhilHarris 5 months ago
That's why I said they fit their roles well... It would have been interesting to see that cast on TV...
Dwight justjeff 5 months ago
Some of those radio scripts got adapted into the 30 minute TV episodes. I will agree that the radio shows had more of a realism to them than the TV show. I also agree that there were things done with the radio show that you couldn’t have gotten away with on TV for most, or all, of the TV run.
HerbF 5 months ago
Amanda Blake Left the show before it's final season (Mary Fran came in to run the "Long Branch" and also appears - with Blake - in the first GUNSMOKE TV Movie), and while Milburn Stone was there for the complete run, he had a heart attack in 1971 and misted 7 episodes. Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon from the 1980's-1990's "Batman" movies) filled in as the Town Doctor while Stone was recovering for 6 episodes.
Wiseguy HerbF 5 months ago
You mean Fran Ryan not Mary Fran (or more commonly Frann). Ryan had replaced Barbara Pepper as Doris Ziffel on Green Acres and later did commercials for Hungry Jack biscuits. Frann played Bob Newhart's wife on Newhart.
Andybandit 5 months ago
30-60 minutes is good enough for a show to be on. Past that it is too long for me.
ncadams27 5 months ago
Wagon Train was mostly an anthology relying on guest stars and The Virginian was 90 min from the start. Longer Gunsmoke episode would need padding, making them less interesting and the show would not have lasted as long as it did.
cperrynaples 5 months ago
How could you not mention that The Virginian was 90 minutes for its entire 9 year run? Also, in 1967 CBS ran Cimarron Strip in a 90-minute format!
When Cimarron Strip was in syndication to local stations I remember the episodes were only 60 minutes long.
Wiseguy cperrynaples 5 months ago
Because it's not relevant?
cperrynaples Wiseguy 5 months ago
I sorta think its relevant since CS is on H&I! Also, The Virginian is on Grit, another diginet!
15inchBlackandWhite 5 months ago
Arness' instincts were probably right on that. A 90-minute show would have been virtually impossible to sell in syndication.
Moody 15inchBlackandWhite 5 months ago
Maybe but The Virginian was a 90 minute show during its entire run & you can still see it on some stations today. But I think he was right that it might have compromised the quality of the show at 90 mins long. On the other hand, think of how much deeper the writers could have gone into a story. If it was done right I think it could have worked.
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