At 20 years and 633 episodes, the longest-running American prime-time drama TV series to date. (2008)
It was originally produced for the CBS Television Network by Filmcrafters at the Producers Studio (now the Raleigh Studio). Around 1960, CBS took over production and moved it to KTLA Studios, then owned by Paramount Pictures. Around 1963 production was moved to CBS Studio Center, formerly Republic Studios, where it remained for the rest of the show's run. Starting around 1970, CBS produced it in association with The Arness Company (James Arness). Originally syndicated by CBS Films and then by its successor, Viacom, now Paramount Television.
James Arness and Milburn Stone are the only two regulars to stay with the show for its entire 20-year, 633-episode duration on CBS. There was one brief exception, when Stone was replaced by another "doctor" while he was recovering from a heart attack.
Slated to be canceled in 1967 due to low ratings, but then-CBS president William Paley reversed the decision. He moved the show from Saturdays to Mondays (cancelling Gilligan's Island in the process), placing it back in the Nielsen's Top Ten (Paley and his wife were both big fans of the show).
Rumor has it that Rex Koury had so little time to pen the theme song that he hastily scribbled it while in the bathroom. It was originally written for "Gunsmoke" when it was a radio show and later adapted for TV.
"Gunsmoke" was created by writer John Meston and producer Norman MacDonnell as a radio series that premiered on CBS in 1952. Many of the early television episodes are adaptations of Meston's radio scripts. The radio series ran for more than 400 episodes and lasted until 1961.
When Dennis Weaver announced that he was leaving the show, it was director Andrew V. McLaglen's suggestion that Ken Curtis be brought in for a tryout as Festus Haggen in a few episodes. McLaglen had directed Curtis in a similar role in an episode of Have Gun, Will Travel. "Festus" was given the job of deputy to make him different from Weaver's character of Chester Good (who was never a deputy).
The series was set in the 1870s. Kansas entered the Union in 1861. The Marshals Service provided local law enforcement in territories, not in states. The duties Matt Dillon performed would have been handled by a town Marshal or county sheriff (in this case, Ford County). Each state (or federal court district) had one US Marshal, who was in charge of all the Deputy US Marshals in that particular jurisdiction; Matt Dillon would have been a Deputy US Marshal.
The actress originally offered the part of Miss Kitty, Polly Bond (aka Polly Ellis), turned it down due to her recent (at the time) marriage to actor Tommy Bond in 1953.
This show, along with The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, helped launch the great era of the TV western. Westerns became so popular on TV that by the end of the 1950s there would be as many as 40 of them airing in prime time.
Originated in a 30-minute format, later expanding to 60 minutes.
According to a TV Guide article published in the August 23, 1975 issue (just before the show left the air), 26 actors screen-tested for the role of Matt Dillon. William Conrad (voice of radio's Matt Dillon) was one, but didn't look the part. Raymond Burr sounded great, but according to producer-director Charles Marquis Warren: "he was too big; when he stood up his chair stood up with him" (Burr later lost considerable weight to play Perry Mason)). John Pickard almost made it, but did poorly in a love scene with Kitty (he later guest-starred a few times in various roles). Warren and producer Norman MacDonnell stoutly denied that they even considered major film star John Wayne - but they went with James Arness, who looked and sounded a LOT like Wayne. When Arness was reluctant to take the role, Wayne persuaded him and even agreed to introduce the first episode.
According to "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows" (8th Edition, pg. 495), John Wayne was the first choice to play Marshal Matt Dillon, but he declined because he did not want to commit to a weekly TV series. He did, however, recommend his friend James Arness for the role, and gave the on-camera introduction in the pilot.
Gary Busey's character Harve Daley was the last man killed on the show.
James Arness received his draft notice in 1943 and trained at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, before shipping out for North Africa. He was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division in time for the invasion of Anzio. Ten days after the invasion, Arness was severely wounded in the leg and foot by machine-gun fire. His wounds: he lost part of his foot: it plagued him the rest of his life. The injury made it difficult for him to walk for extended stretches, when shooting movies or TV shows, any scenes that required extensive walking would be shot early in the morning, before his feet and knees started giving out. The wounds resulted in his medical discharge from the army. He received the Bronze Star; the Purple Heart; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze campaign stars; the World War II Victory Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge for his service
The gunfight between Matt Dillon and an unknown gunman that opened every episode was shot on the same main street as that used in High Noon.
Three of the children from "The Brady Bunch" appeared in episodes: Christopher Knight (Peter); "The Miracle Man", Eve Plumb (Jan); "Gold Town", and Susan Olsen (Cindy); "Abelia" and "A Man Called Smith".
All four senior officers of the original "Star Trek" appeared in separate episodes: William Shatner (Captain Kirk); "Quaker Girl", Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock); "Treasure of John Walking Fox", "Call Him Wonder", "The Search", "A Man a Day", DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy); "Indian Scout", and James Doohan (Scotty), "Quint Asper Comes Home".
A wanted poster on the wall in Matt Dillon's office reads: "William H. Bonney wanted for murder". William Bonney was also known as 'Billy the Kid'.
John Wayne appeared in the beginning to introduce the series. He was also originally offered the role of Matt Dillon but turned it down. And he recommended James Arness for the role.
This is the first time Matt tells someone, "Get out of Dodge."
This episode was presented as a radio broadcast before it aired on television. In the radio version, the daughter's name was "Tara Hantree".