After a shaky start opposite NBC's George Gobel Show during its first season, TV's foremost "adult" western Gunsmoke steadily accrued new viewers throughout Season Two, ending the year as America's 8th most popular program. And by the end of Season Three, Gunsmoke was TV's top-rated series--a fact not lost on the other networks, as witness the veritable flood of new westerns series during the next two years. Few if any changes were been made in Gunsmoke's format during its third year on the air. Certainly, nothing was done to dampen the popularity of its stars: James Arness as Dodge City's taciturn marshal Matt Dillon, Dennis Weaver as Matt's bucolic-but-brave deputy Chester Good, Amanda Blake as attractively tarnished saloonkeeper Kitty Russell and Milburn Stone as crotchety Doc Adams. By this time, many of the series' familiar trademarks were not only firmly in place, but were rich sources of satire and parody on the various comedy shows of the period: Kitty's ubiquitous "Be careful, Matt" whenever Dillon went out on a dangerous mission; Chester's pronounced limp and spectacular inability to make a decent cup of coffee; the ongoing battle of wits between Chester and Doc; and of course the famous opening sequence, with Dillon squaring off against an unidentified gunslinger in the middle of Dodge's Main Street. Incredibly, although 78 episodes had already been filmed and 39 more were offered during Season Three, the series was still relying heavily upon scripts adapted from the radio version of Gunsmoke, which ran from 1952 through 1961 (some of these were "visualized" by no less a writer than Sam Peckinpah). And as in the past two seasons, the supporting casts of those 39 episodes were filled to overflowing with familiar names, notably John Dehner, Jeanette Nolan, Robert Vaughn, Pernell Roberts, Jack Lord, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, Jack Klugman, Harry Dean Stanton, June Lockhart and Jack Cassidy.
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