Prior to his audition for the role of Matt Dillon, James Arness visited his local library to research into the pioneering days of American history, as he wanted Gunsmoke to be as historically accurate as possible. James Arness says "I read every historical account of battles with the indians and of the progress made in development." When James Arness agreed to take the part of Matt Dillon, he made one stipulation; that the series should not be "childish", but be aimed at a more mature audience. James Arness wanted the series to convey to the viewers a sense of the pioneering spirit of America, with some historical background in each episode.

Gunsmoke started life as a CBS radio series in 1952, starring William Conrad. The show was created by the director Norman Macdonnell and writer John Metson. Macdonnell was not involved with the television version, although Metson was the main writer for the series and the show's success can be attributed not least to Metson's skillful writing.

When the show's producer was looking for an actor to cast as Matt Dillon for the television version, Conrad was the obvious choice, but because of his increasing obesity, Conrad was sidelined and more photogenic actors were considered for the part. After Conrad was rejected for the television series, he became embittered that he had lost the role he had created. Before James Arness got the part, other actors were considered, including Raymond Burr; although he was considered to be too heavy-set for the part. Rumours also abounded that John Wayne was offered the role of Dillon, but this cannot be verified. James Arness was then approached by the producer, an audition took place and James Arness proved to be perfect for the part.

Gunmoke is set in Dodge City, Kansas in the 1870s and Marshal Matt Dillon has a tough job keeping law and order in the thriving cattle days of the latter part of the 19th century. Matt Dillon always tries to capture villians and bring them to justice, rather than kill them. Dennis Weaver is Chester Goode, Dillon's deputy, a role Weaver played until 1964. After Dennis Weaver left the series, the role of deputy was taken by Ken Curtis, playing a character called Festus Haggen.

Two other notable characters in the series are Dr. Galen 'Doc' Addams (Milburn Stone), although in the radio version Doc seems to be a rather embittered man. By the time Doc reaches television, this Jack-of-all-trades is now a much more endearing character. There is also Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake), initially a saloon girl, but later in the series a saloon proprietor. She and Matt Dillon share a close personal relationship, although this is not explored to any great degree.

Gunsmoke holds the record of being the longest running entertainment series with continuing characters on primetime television in the United States. Many well known faces guest star in the series over its long run, including - Burt Reynolds, John Carradine, Chuck Connors, Aaron Spelling, Dan Blocker and Warren Oates.

Gunsmoke, which originally aired on CBS Television from 1955 until 1975, can be split into three distinct segments: From 1955 until 1961: black & white 30 minute episodes / 1961 until 1966: black & white 60 minute episodes / 1966 until 1975 colour 60 minute episodes. When some of the early episodes were repeated in the early 1960s, they were re-titled as Marshal Dillon. When the show was cancelled in 1975, James Arness and Milburn Stone were the only actors to have been with the series over its entire run of 20 years, and 635 episodes.

Several TV movies were made based on the original television series: Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge City (1987), Gunsmoke: The Last Apache (1990), Gunsmoke: To the Last Man (1992), Gunsmoke: The Long Ride (1993), and Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice (1994).


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