‘Gunsmoke’: Why Didn’t the Show Have a Traditional Series Finale?

Gunsmoke is in a league of its own for many reasons. But the series never had a true finale. Instead, after twenty seasons, the show just kind of disappeared from television. There was no final hurrah, no riding off into the sunset, and nothing to say goodbye to.

So, why didn’t the show get to have a traditional series finale? Let’s delve into some of the possible reasons and explore what made the show disappear.

The final episode of Gunsmoke that went on air was episode 635, entitled “The Sharecroppers.” Even though it was not a finale in and of itself, it was a light-hearted episode that focused mostly on Festus.

“Gunsmoke” Never Got a True Series Finale Episode

The actors had no idea that the show was going to end as abruptly as it did. Nor did anyone know that the show was going to be outright canceled, so there wasn’t a proper celebration. Unfortunately, the twenty-year show came to a close with a normal episode airing.

However, years earlier, the host network, CBS, did its best to try and cancel the show. So, at the very least, the writing was on the wall. But, when the show was going to be canceled, fans of Gunsmoke came to its rescue.

Just a month before the show ended, the Associated Press wrote a note about the show. In the note, they talk about the leading actor, James Arness.

“CBS has done something Indians, bad guys, bad whisky and not even CBS could do earlier: Kill off U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon. The move will put James Arness… on the unemployment rolls. A few years ago CBS tried to remove the show but was met by such audience protest that the network had to renew the series.”

So, the main reason that the show was ended so abruptly was that CBS was never a fan of the show. Despite Gunsmoke being the number one show on television from 1957 to 1961, CBS wanted it gone.

No One Involved With the Show Knew It Was Ending

Again, the cast and crew did not get a heads up that the show was ending. This is according to David R. Greenland’s book, The Gunsmoke Chronicles: A New History of Television’s Greatest Western. Arness spoke to him about the show ending so weirdly.

“All of us were ready… for one more season of Gunsmoke. CBS had led us downstream and then, when we were down to the wire, they dropped the ax.”

Even the Gunsmoke’s producer wasn’t aware that the show was getting canceled. He reportedly found out that the show was done from The Hollywood Reporter’s front page.

The show came to a close because CBS and critics alike thought that it was outdated. They felt that the show wasn’t continuing to resonate with its fanbase, nor generating any new viewers.

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