Actor James Arness, who for 20 years played Marshall Matt Dillon on TV’s Gunsmoke, has passed away at the age of 88.
In today’s 500 channel age, when TV network PR crows over ratings numbers that would be rounding errors in Gunsmoke’s time, it’s worth noting what television ratings were like when Gunsmoke roamed the airwaves (and there were just 3 commercial networks).
The show began in 1955, and by the 1959-60 television season it averaged a 40.3 household rating for the entire season (may have been higher earlier, but 1960 is the earliest year we have data from).
Top 20 Prime Time Broadcast Programs, October 1959 – April 1960:
|RANK||PROGRAM||NETWORK||HH RATING||HH SHARE|
|3||Have Gun Will Travel||CBS||34.7||53|
|6||Father Knows Best||CBS||29.7||43|
|6||77 Sunset Strip||ABC||29.7||47|
|8||The Price Is Right||NBC||29.2||45|
|9||Wanted: Dead Or Alive||CBS||28.7||44|
|11||The Real McCoys||ABC||28.2||44|
|12||The Ed Sullivan Show||CBS||28.0||42|
|15||The Ford Show||NBC||27.4||43|
|17||Dennis The Menace||CBS||26.0||41|
To put that in perspective, even with all its DVR viewing added in, the ratings champion of the 2010-11 season, Wednesday’s American Idol averaged a 14.4 household rating / 23 share. And don’t forget that all those Gunsmoke viewers were watching live.
Of course, the main reason for that disparity is that broadcast TV primetime viewing has declined steadily since the early 80’s as viewers migrated to ad supported cable.
TV by the Numbers owes a special debt to the show, without which there would be no “Gunsmoke Rule”.
Because comparing show’s broadcast TV ratings today to those in distant past years to prove those past shows should never have been cancelled is patently nonsense, we christened the “Gunsmoke Rule” which states:
“The Gunsmoke Rule”: No comparing the ratings of any individual show this season to a show in any season except the previous one. “How could CBS have canceled Gunsmoke, for some dreck like CSI? Gunsmoke pulled a 40 rating in 1960!
And without James Arness it would never have existed.