‘Gunsmoke’: How Writing for the Show was an Extremely Cutthroat Gig

TV writing can be a ruthless business.

That hasn’t changed between now and back in 1955 to 1975 when the TV classic “Gunsmoke” was on.

The show was on for over 20 years and had a 20 season run. The writers, producers, and directors were constantly looking for new ways to keep the storyline of the show fresh and exciting. Clearly whatever they did worked since the show was on for so long and continues to be popular in reruns today.

However, their method for keeping things fresh may not have been everyone’s favorite tactic.

According to IMDb, between seasons when the writing crew started to repeat or recycle ideas and stories in the show, an entirely new writing crew would replace them. Instead of working together to create new plotlines and themes, new people with new thoughts instead took a shot at keeping “Gunsmoke” at the top of its game.

It was a cutthroat process, but was successful for the western show.

While the show cycled through writers quickly, there were writers that were popular for their time writing on the show.

One of the most popular is John Meston. He is credited for co-creating the series alongside producer Norman Macdonnell. He essentially helped to create the tone and style that made the television series so memorable.

Meston wrote 196 of the 635 of the “Gunsmoke” episodes made for television. He wrote 183 of the radio segments. He also was a writer for radio programs like “Escape,” “Suspense,” and “Fort Laramie.” He also wrote episodes for “Little House on the Prairie” and “Hec Ramsey.”

His “Gunsmoke” story “Born to Hang” in 1958 was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Teleplay Writing.

On IMDb, the series has over 181 series writing credits. Other influential writers include Bethel Leslie, Calvin Clements Sr., Daniel B. Ullman, Dick Nelson, Donald S. Sanford, E. Jack Neuman, and Earl W. Wallace.

Television Writing Today

The process of getting into TV writing is incredibly difficult.

According to Shmoop, it is highly competitive and the success rate is low. Many writers will spend 10 years as assistants before getting a chance to actually write for a show.

Most writers start at the bottom and work their way up. However, the cancel rates for shows after one season can make it difficult to work your up in a gig.

TV writing is even more popular and more desired than movies. Landing a TV role means getting to delve deeper into plotlines and spending more time on one project.

“Breaking into television is hypercompetitive, and even once you’re in, it can be fleeting — you’re not guaranteed a job one year after the next, and you have to constantly be on, writing at the highest levels. But having said that, television is the place to be if you love long-form storytelling, character-driven drama, intricate world-building and the opportunity to weave in and out of a tapestry of multiple characters and stories,” Ryan Farley, a writer for “Justified” and “Outsiders” said according to Filmmaker.

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