A Look at the Eighth Season of Gunsmoke
The eighth season of Gunsmoke was the second season of the one hour format. Prior to that, it was only one half hour. The longer time was an asset to the series because there was more time to develop more characters. Prior to that, most shows concentrated on the four main characters: Matt Dillon, Chester Good, Miss Kitty and Doc Adams.
Dennis Weaver was growing weary of his character when the eighth season rolled around. He was allowed to direct a few episodes but that didn’t help. He appeared in only 15 out of 38 shows. This opened the door for Burt Reynolds to become involved in the show as Quint Asper, a half-Comanche that usually got into scrapes because of his darker color. Interestingly, Reynolds appeared in 16 shows, more than Weaver. It was rumored that Reynolds got more fan mail than all other cast members combined.
Another new face this season was the appearance of Ken Curtis as Festus although he only appeared in one episode. He became a full time cast member in season 9.
Here is what one reviewer said about the season:
As before, U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) and his eccentric, game-leg assistant (not deputy) Chester Goode (Dennis Weaver) are still maintaining the peace in unruly, barely-tamed Dodge City, Kansas. The various gunslingers and cattle rustlers causing Marshal Dillon no end of grief usually can be found drinking and gambling at one of the innumerable saloons. Matt’s friend Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake), formerly a (coded) prostitute, is now half-owner of the city’s finest, the Long Branch Saloon. She’s also its madam, and though the audience doesn’t get to see much of that business, it’s implied. Matt’s line of work often requires the services of cantankerous Doc Adams (Milburn Stone), another close friend of Matt, Chester, and Miss Kitty.
Writer John Meston (1914-1979) was to Gunsmoke what Rod Serling was to Twilight Zone; he penned an incredible 257 episodes of the series during its 20-year run, and that’s not counting episodes of the radio show he also wrote (though there was a lot of crossover, apparently). Two of his favorite devices are the “What’s Going On Here?” and “How’s Matt Going to Solve/Get Out of This?” structures, with Matt presented with a puzzling situation/irresolvable conflict at the beginning of the episode, and he and other characters working through the mystery which is revealed/resolved, often violently, at the end. A favorite plot Meston did myriad riffs on has cool cucumber Matt withholding judgment on an accused killer’s guilt or innocence while all of Dodge City is ready to lynch the accused. Sometimes in these shows the accused is a friend of Matt’s, like Chester, sometimes he’s a guest star, but always, even with a mountain of evidence stacked against him, Matt remains calm and just.
Here is the Gunsmoke Eighth Season Videos, Volumes 1 & 2: