The Storytelling Genius of Gunsmoke

A new ritual with Dad has emerged in recent months: watching an episode of Gunsmoke in the early afternoon, and perhaps sipping a vodka tonic or whiskey, neat.

I watched the program as a kid, but only remember the hour-long, color episodes toward the end of the show’s long run. (It ran from 1955-75.)

The shows Dad and I have watched are the half hour black-and-white episodes featuring Dennis Weaver as Chester, the gimp deputy. These episodes are masterpieces of taut storytelling and the antithesis of today’s bloated network and streaming shows that get bogged down with flashbacks, back stories, excessive character development and digital wizardry.

Gunsmoke comes out blazing with rot gut whiskey, horses, gun play, fisticuffs in the Long Branch Saloon. The violence is brutal but not gruesome and fetishized like you see ad nauseam today. Gunsmoke gets into within 15 seconds of the title sequence and doesn’t let up. Every episode moves like a blast from a Colt 45. I would recommend any aspiring or experienced writer view some of the episodes and consider the brevity and pacing of these narratives as something worth emulating in storytelling. I know I’ve learned a technique and strategy or two to enliven future writing projects by watching Marshall Matt Dillon maintain law and order in Dodge City. I think sometimes it is good writing practice to move everything on as fast as you can. That’s not widely taught by the writing pros.

I also enjoy dissecting the episodes with Dad. We always wager a few bucks every now and then on whether or not Matt will shoot and kill someone. It all makes for an entertaining and instructive 30 minutes in the early afternoon. And the good guys always win. It’s a Western!