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Gunsmoke: The Eighth Season, Vol. 1 [5 Discs] [DVD]

Release Date:05/07/2013
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    Special Features

    • Preview trailers on select episodes
    • Sponsor material


    The decision to expand Gunsmoke from 30 to 60 minutes during its seventh season may have made sense insofar as offering more in-depth storytelling and providing a larger forum for potential sponsors, but it didn't do much for the series' ratings. After riding high as America's top-rated series for four consecutive years, Gunsmoke dropped to third place during Season Seven, then plummeted to tenth place in Season Eight. In all fairness, however, this may have had less to do with the series' quality than its stiff NBC competition, Saturday Night at the Movies, as well as an overall flagging of audience interest in TV westerns (in 1960, nine westerns were listed among the Top Thirty programs; that number had dropped to five by 1962). That said, the series' eighth season still boasted the top-flight production and story values that had won the hearts and minds of viewers way back when Gunsmoke started in 1955. And if anything, stars James Arness (Matt Dillon), Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty), Milburn Stone (Doc) and Dennis Weaver (Chester) were delivering better and more realistic performances than ever. In fact, Dennis Weaver had decided that he had gotten all out of his Gunsmoke role than he would ever get, and had opted to leave the series, in hopes of landing a starring vehicle of his own. Although Chester was not entirely absent from the eighth season, he was nowhere to be found for the most part, obliging the writers to offer up a brace of potential replacments for the popular supporting character. The episode "Quint Asper Comes Home" introduces a young Burt Reynolds as the title character, a half-breed who has returned to Dodge to bury his murdered white father and to escort his Comanche mother back to her tribe. Although rampant prejudice and bigotry has turned Quint against the white race, he changes his mind by episode's end and set up a blacksmith shop in Dodge. In later episodes, Quint will assist his friend Matt Dillon in tracking down various miscreants, never officially deputized by always on call if he's needed. Burt Reynolds will remain with Gunsmoke on a recurring basis throughout the next three seasons. And in "Us Haggens", Ken Curtis, a popular singing cowboy and John Ford regular, is introduced in the role of Festus Haggen, a scraggly hillbilly who hails from a family of scoundrels, thieves and murderers--but who, adhering to his own peculiar set of values and brand of loyalty, casts his lot with lawman Matt Dillon and agrees to "go straight" in Dodge. It would, however, be several years before Festus would matriculate to full deputy--and full costar--status. At any rate, it wasn't possible during Season Three, due to the frequent reappearances of Dennis Weaver. Of the season's 38 episodes, the most intriguing is "I Call Him Wonder", which was clearly designed as the pilot for a spinoff series headlining guest star Ron Hayes. ~ Hal Erickson

    Cast & Crew

    • James Arness - Marshal Matt Dillon
    • Milburn Stone - Dr. Galen `Doc' Adams
    • Amanda Blake - Kitty Russell
    • Dennis Weaver - Chester Goode
    • Ken Curtis - Festus Haggen

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