More Dogs on Main: Marshal Dillon, we need you
More Dogs on Main
The writers and actors in the television industry are on strike, and have been for a long time. At first it didn’t matter. I missed late night TV, which I watched at breakfast thanks to the satellite box recording things for me. Most other stuff went into reruns for summer anyway, and there aren’t many shows I followed. There was a lot of discussion about how John Dutton, the central figure in the “Yellowstone” oat-opera would be written off the show. There was no secret that Kevin Costner wanted out to pursue his own movie-making plans. The only issue was how his very important role would end.
Fans were engaged in a kind of “Clue” game speculating — Chief Rainwater in the Casino with a lead pipe, or Jamie in the Capitol building with a knife — that sort of thing. It all mattered. And then somewhere along about midsummer, it didn’t. I’m over it, and if “Yellowstone” doesn’t come back for the second half of the final season with four or five episodes that wrap it all up, that’s OK.
The problem with scripted television having dried up is that I was watching too much news. But that, too, has become reruns. Another Trump indictment, another witness saying the end is nigh, another congressional impasse another important leader appearing to veer off into senility. And most discouraging, we seem destined for a rerun of the last election. I didn’t much care for it the first time around; it won’t hold up well in syndication. I had a couple of cable news shows set to record, and turned one on and was half way through it before I realized it was a month old.
I turned to books that had been on the shelf for a long time. I read a 400-page book about beavers (interesting, but would have been better at 300 pages and no mention of the author’s search for self-discovery). I just wanted to know how to get the beaver in the stream behind my house to move on before it floods the house. I started important books with noble intent and dropped them after a couple of chapters.
And then one day, I discovered archeological gold on TV. One of the channels that seemed to broadcast religious content was showing old Westerns. God’s writers are also on strike, and aren’t producing any more new content than the Hollywood writers. They ran out of programming. So let’s run “Gunsmoke.”
I realize that there are a couple of deprived generations now alive who probably never watched “Gunsmoke.” It was essential TV in my household growing up. In lawless Dodge City, Kansas, U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon maintained the peace, meting out justice with the wisdom of Solomon. He was assisted by the somewhat alcoholic Doc, the wide-eyed and innocent young Deputy Chester, and the pragmatic Miss Kitty, who presided over the Long Branch Saloon.
In later years, Chester was replaced with a kind of idiot-savant named Festus. Festus rode a mule. In half-hour increments, the moral dilemmas of our time were solved. As the world became more complicated, “Gunsmoke” turned into living color, and expanded to an hour. Life’s lessons were dispensed in ways that were far more instructive than Sunday School.
One episode really jumps out. A typhoid outbreak had hit Dodge City. Doc was urging citizens to take precautions while he figured out how to stop the spread. Hot-headed residents immediately decided that the source was the Italian restaurant (Dodge City in the 1870s had an Olive Garden?). Doc attempted to use science, apparently willing to poison Chester along the way. Matt Dillon advised common sense. And the townspeople went right to hysteria.
It could have been written about Covid. Same characters — Doc as Fauci, Miss Kitty as all the health-care workers on the front lines — and the same fears, rumors and panic. Misdirections on the source, and finally Doc solved it: The German sausage maker. Who knew!
“Gunsmoke” is often followed by “Rawhide,” where we are part of the adventures of Rowdy Yates, played by a young Clint Eastwood, on a cattle drive from Texas to the rail head they never quite reach. In each town, they find themselves in the middle of some implausible situation, frequently life-threatening, but always worked out.
Both shows are roughly 60 years old, though they ran for years. It’s shocking how the culture has changed in that time. Depictions of woman and their “place” in society may have seemed normal in 1956 are really uncomfortable to watch now. The Indians are dispatched with reckless abandon for the most part, though every now and then there will be a slightly sympathetic portrayal. Though they weren’t going to make a habit of it. Anyway, we’ve come a long way.
“Gunsmoke” ran from 1955 through 1975. “The Simpsons” has it beat, but 20 years is a good piece of culture. I’ve been to the set in Kanab where they filmed the outdoor scenes. Kanab and Dodge City look nothing alike, but that didn’t matter. The Long Branch Saloon was unmistakable in the ruins of the old set. It’s been a welcome break from the noise everywhere else. But where are Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty when we really need them?
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
Emotion permeated the air last Friday night as snow drifted down from the heavens around Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, reflecting in the orange glow of the Olympic and Paralympic cauldron. On stage were three generations of athletes. Some of them basked in the glow of memories from the days they won their gold, silver or bronze medals, while younger future stars had big eyes from sharing moments with their heroes.
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