What Is the Longest Running TV Show?


The longest running scripted TV show in the United States is “Gunsmoke,” which aired 635 episodes between 1955 and 1975. “The Simpsons,” set to air until 2019, will surpass this record.

Background and Storyline “Gunsmoke” was a Western-themed drama set in Dodge City, Kansas during the 1870s. The series focused on Marshal Matt Dillon and the town residents, such as Doc Adams, Miss Kitty Russell, Chester B. Goode and Festus Haggan. It began as a radio series for CBS.

During the series run, Marshal Dillon was in charge of the town, which resembled a typical Wild West frontier town where residents did not follow the law. He tried to keep order in Dodge City by settling brawls, handling land fraud, stopping gunfights and other problems associated with the 1870s American West. Chester and Festus were his friends and sidekicks. Miss Kitty ran the Long Branch Saloon and had a close relationship with Dillon.

Early Years The radio show first aired on April 26, 1952, with the episode titled “Billy the Kid.” William Conrad played Matt Dillon Georgia Ellis played Miss Kitty Russell, Parley Baer played Chester and Howard McNear played Doc Adams. The show continued until June 18, 1961. During this time, discussion began to adapt the show for television. The first TV episode aired on September 10, 1955, on CBS.

Television Years James Arness played Matt Dillon on the TV series, with Milburn Stone as Doc, Amanda Blake playing Miss Kitty, Ken Curtis as Festus and Dennis Weaver as Chester. The show was 30 minutes long from 1995 to 1961 and then was extended to one hour for the rest of its run. “Gunsmoke” began its run in black and white. The first color episode was season twelve’s “Snap Decision” on September 17, 1966. The show ran for 20 seasons and 635 episodes, ending on March 31, 1975, with the episode “The Sharecroppers.”

Popularity “Gunsmoke” was ranked as the number 1 show on CBS from 1957 to 1961. Popularity decline in later seasons and the network considered canceling it during its 12th season in 1966. However, after receiving backlash from fans, the show was renewed. In September 1975, the show was canceled. This move surprised the cast because “Gunsmoke” was still considered popular at the time.

Other Long-running U.S. Television Shows At 635 episodes, “Gunsmoke” has remained the longest-running show since 1975. The series to come close to overtaking it is “The Simpsons,” which has run 630 episodes. The show was renewed for two more seasons in 2017, extending its run until 2019. The third longest-running show is “Lassie,” which ran for 547 episodes, from 1954 to 1971. “Law & Order,” which ran for 20 seasons from 1990 to 2010, is the longest-running crime series, and the longest-running one-hour show, as of 2017 (“Gunsmoke” didn’t expand to an hour until six years into its run). Rounding out the top five is “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” another radio series that was adapted for television. It ran for 14 seasons and 435 episodes between 1952 and 966. The show starred the real-life Nelson family as themselves, establishing it as the first reality program.