Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice Ended a 40 Year Franchise

Gunsmoke was one of the longest-running primetime scripted showz of all time, with Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice bringing the franchise to an end.

Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice brought down the curtain on an iconic western series. Gunsmoke started as a popular radio series before making the move to TV, where James Arness – who played the titular Thing in 1951’s The Thing From Another World – played main character Marshall Dillion. Gunsmoke season 1 debuted on CBS in 1955 and would run for an incredible 20 seasons and 635 episodes, coming to an end in 1975.

James Arness was recommended for the show by John Wayne and the actor stayed with Gunsmoke for its entire run, and also made an uncredited appearance as Marshall Dillion in 1959 Bob Hope comedy Alias Jesse James. The show is relatively tame by today’s standards – especially in comparison to something like Deadwood – but it was praised during its original run for being a little grittier and more grounded than other western shows of the era, such as The Wild Wild West. The show’s 635 episode run meant it held the record for most episodes produced for a primetime scripted show for decades, which was finally surpassed by The Simpsons’ season 29 episode “Forgive and Regret” in 2018.

Marshall Dillion had some famous sidekicks on Gunsmoke during its run too, including Dennis Weaver (Duel) and Burt Reynolds (The Cannonball Run) as Quint Asper. While Gunsmoke the show may have ended in 1975, Arness would later return for a series of five TV movies, starting with 1987’s Gunsmoke: Return To Dodge. For his part, Arness was more than happy to return, as he hadn’t expected the show to be cancelled back in 1975, meaning it didn’t have a proper finale. He returned for more TV movies like Gunsmoke: The Last Man alongside Pat Hingle (Batman), before reaching the end with Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice.

Gunsmoke: One’s Man Justice aired in 1994 and marked the end of a nearly 40-year journey for the series. The story finds the now-retired Dillion setting out to catch the gang responsible for a stagecoach robbery that left a woman dead, and stop her vengeful teenage son chasing after them and getting himself killed in the process. Dillion’s also joined by a mysterious businessman named Davis Healy (Bruce Boxleitner, Tron: Legacy) on his journey.

Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice is ultimately a decent if unremarkable end to the franchise, with a simple story that drags a little. Still, it’s notable not only being the official end to the saga, but also for being James Arness’ final time playing Marshall Dillion and his final acting role. Even in his seventies that actor still made for a commanding presence, and after 635 episodes and five movies, he had more than earned his retirement.

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