I look at all the hoopla surrounding the final episode of ER, ending a run of 15 years and 331 episodes, and I can't help thinking of GUNSMOKE.
The legendary CBS western ran for 20 years and 600+ episodes…far more than ER. And unlike ER, most of the principal stars of GUNSMOKE remained to the bitter end… bitter, not because the show was doing poorly creatively or in terms of audience numbers, but because it was cancelled without a final episode, without so much as a thank you to the cast and crew that had labored over the show from 1955-1975. Everyone on GUNSMOKE thought they'd be coming back for another season. They found out they weren't by reading the bad news in the trades. That would be unthinkable today. Respect would be paid, if not with a final episode, then certainly with the tributes and retrospectives we've seen lavished on shows like BOSTON LEGAL, HILL STREET BLUES, CHEERS, MASH, SEINFELD, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and so many, many others…none of which has matched GUNSMOKE's longevity.
GUNSMOKE still remains the longest running, scripted drama in U.S. television history. LAW & ORDER is fast approaching the record, but unlike GUNSMOKE, it has experienced a lot of cast-turnover. There's nobody left on L&O who was there in episode one. The same is true of ER. The ER we were captivated by 15 years ago is not the same show that will be ending this Thursday…that cast, and that show, is long gone. But James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon and Milburn Stone, as Doc, were there from start to finish (Amanda Blake as Kitty stuck with the show for 19 years). They deserved a better send off.
2 thoughts on “The Finale That Never Was But Should Have Been”
I never minded GUNSMOKE not having a finale because I preferred to assume that things simply continued on as always in Dodge City. That’s one reason I despised the awful GUNSMOKE TV-movies of the late ’80s and ’90s (along with James Arness’s hair and make-up). I could have lived without the knowledge that Marshal Dillon turned in his badge and left Dodge City and his friends behind for life as a mountain man, or that he and Kitty never got back together. GUNSMOKE, I believe, was better left open ended.
I disagree and I agree in part…I have to say that these finale’ sendoffs are not always the best thing. I believe for MASH and Mary Tyler Moore it made sense, but Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, Bewitched, and more I think and more were best left alone.
I do think a show’s demise needs to be done with some class, especially for one that was such a media icon (remember it had been a long running radio show with William Conrad as Dillon well before the tv show).