When "Gunsmoke" premiered, its introduction by John Wayne notified the viewers that they were about to see a different kind of TV western drama, and he was right. At the time, shows of that genre were aimed at kids, ie: "The Lone Ranger" and "The Cisco Kid", "Gunsmoke" was billed as the first "adult western".
Matt Dillon (played by James Arness, the longest, continuous running, recurring character on television) was the tough but fair Marshal of Dodge City in post-Civil War Kansas. For 20 years he was either your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on which side of the law you were on.
Dr. Galen "Doc" Adams (played by Milburn Stone) was a crotchity old frontier doctor who knew his medicine and his limitations. He was sometimes the id to Matt's ego and other times the spur in Chester or Festus' saddle.
Katherine "Kitty" Russell (played by Amanda Blake) was the worldly wise owner of the Long Branch Saloon. Dispenser of drinks, advice and charm.
Chester Goode (played by Dennis Weaver) was Matt's assistant for the early years. Having lost a leg (in the war?) he walked with a limp, was famous for making bad coffee and was loyal as the day was long.
Festus Haggen (played by Ken Curtis) was eventually Matt's deputy. Dennis Weaver wanted to leave the show for some time so Festus' character was worked in gradually. In many an opinion (mine in fact) he surpassed his predecessor. A hillbilly who couldn't read, Festus was one tough hombre when challenged.
Along with other townsfolk who grew familiar to us over the years, Sam the bartender, Loud-mouthed Burke, Louis Pheeters the town drunk, Quint Asper the blacksmith and Newly O'Brien the gunsmith, loyal viewers almost became part of Dodge City.
The lessons are not always obvious. As the series went on, Matt learned that justice was not always righteous and right was sometimes wrong. But the message was always clear. And although they once had an elephant come to town, "Gunsmoke" never jumped the shark. It remained a high quality TV program spanning 3 decades.