Dec. 07--Q: A group of friends and I have been watching "Gunsmoke" reruns and we were wondering: Considering it was the longest-running drama on TV, how did it end?
Answer: The last episode of "Gunsmoke" was not designed to be a series finale. The episode, "The Sharecroppers," aired in 1975 and revolved around Deputy Festus Haggen, who accidentally shoots a man in the leg and then helps out at the man's family farm. As Hal Erickson, a media historian, wrote, the episode "was a low-key comic exercise emphasizing Festus, in no way suggesting that a two-decade era was about to come to an abrupt end."
In an interview, Arness said "We didn't do a final, wrap-up show. We finished the 20th year, we all expected to go on for another season" and added that the network "never told anybody they were thinking of canceling" the show. Many of the cast and crew members of the show found out about the cancellation from trade publications.
At the time, relatively few TV shows produced special final episodes. There were some exceptions, such as the final episode of "The Fugitive." But often, the producers of a show didn't know if it was going to be canceled at the time they shot the season finale, and many shows were made to be self-contained so episodes could run in any order in syndication.
"Gunsmoke" ran 20 years and had 635 episodes, making it the longest-running American prime-time drama TV series to date. However, in terms of episode count and length, some soap operas have beaten it, if you look outside of prime time. The current longest-running scripted show in primetime is "The Simpsons," which is now in its 25th season and has already been renewed for a 26th. However, since networks produce fewer new episodes in a season than they did during "Gunsmoke's" run, there haven't been as many episodes of "The Simpsons" -- Sunday's episode will be number 537.
Going beyond its weekly series run, "Gunsmoke" was revived in 1987 for the TV-movie "Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge," in which Matt Dillon comes out of retirement when an old foe comes back for revenge and kidnaps Miss Kitty. That proved successful enough that "Gunsmoke" was revived as a series of TV-movies: "The Last Apache" in 1990, "To the Last Man" in 1992, "The Long Ride" in 1993 and "One Man's Justice" in 1994.
"Gunsmoke" is being released in DVD sets, but since the show lasted 20 seasons it is taking awhile. Since 2007, Paramount Home Entertainment has released nine seasons, the most recent being in August.
The first three TV-movies were released on DVD in 2004. The last two TV-movies were released on VHS, but are long out of print; earlier this week, we found copies of "One's Man's Justice" for sale on Amazon for prices ranging from $89 to $229.
Following up on a previous SAM question: Time Warner Cable has just added Al Jazeera America, a channel that covers domestic and international news, to its lineup. The channel is based in New York and has bureaus in 12 cities across the United States. It can be found in the digital tier on channel 410 in standard definition or channel 1410 in high definition.
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