Gunsmoke made its initial debut in 1952 as a radio program created by writer John Meston and producer Norman MacDonnell. When it arrived three years later on TV, all the basic elements of what would make it the most successful adult Western series in TV history were already in place. Marshal Dillon, Miss Kitty, Chester and Doc Adams were a family, and Dodge City was a town, that audiences already knew well.

The characters in the series had changed a bit over time. Dillon was a darker figure in the early days of the radio show, and Dodge City was a far nastier place. Doc Adams actually inherited his name from New Yorker cartoonist Charles Addams because he was so ghoulish, and Chester didn’t actually have a name at first; he was little more than an anonymous local buffoon.

Some still feel Gunsmoke sacrificed its guts and glory when it went to TV, but most of the early shows were taken directly from the radio scripts that Meston wrote. In fact, Meston wrote something like 257 episodes of Gunsmoke between 1955-65.

By the time Gunsmoke reached its third season, whatever kinks the show might have had were long ironed out. James Arness, Amanda Blake and the rest of the cast were completely at home in their parts, and America was completely at home with Gunsmoke. In two years, the prime time adult Western went from being an untested commodity to the reigning TV genre; Gunsmoke ruled the roost.

This collection contains the first 19 episodes of that season, and I’m among those who think these half-hour black-and-white shows, loaded with first rank character actors and solid scripts, were as good as Gunsmoke ever got.

The digital transfers of these shows are terrific, and the cleaned-up mono sound is fine. About the only legitimate complaint I might offer is that these collections and the fans who buy them religiously really deserve more extras. Legions of scholars and historians could have provided commentary on these discs, and what’s to prevent CBS from tossing on a few of the original radio shows? The other criticism, and by far the noisier one among Gunsmoke lovers, is that everyone would be gratified if CBS/Paramount would box up an entire season at a time, instead of doling them out in increments.

All that aside, this is great stuff and worth every penny.

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