Law & Order Cancelled; Gunsmoke’s 20-Year Record Intact

NBC has officially canceled Law & Order, meaning the show won’t beat Gunsmoke as television’s longest-running prime time drama series. Instead, the two dramas will stay tied at 20 years. Gunsmoke ran from 1955 to 1975; when Law & Order wraps up later this month it will have been on the air from 1990-2010).

Gunsmoke, however, produced 635 episodes (233 thirty-minute episodes and 402 hour-long episodes) compared to 456 for Law & Order. Furthermore, while James Arness stayed with Gunsmoke through its entire run, there are no original cast members still on Law & Order.

Thanks to its longevity, Gunsmoke is a perfect case study for the decrease in the number of episodes produced during a television season over the years. For its first five seasons–1955 to 1960–the show produced 39 new episodes and aired just 13 repeats and/or pre-emptions. Over the course of the next six seasons–1960 to 1966–the number of new episodes fluctuated between 32 and 38. The 1966-1967 season, Gunsmoke‘s 12th, produced just 29 episodes.

During its final five seasons–1970 to 1975–only 24 new episodes were produced each year. That’s about the same number of episodes current drama series produce.

Here’s a chart:

Season 01 – 39 Episodes
Season 02 – 39 Episodes
Season 03 – 39 Episodes
Season 04 – 39 Episodes
Season 05 – 39 Episodes
Season 06 – 38 Episodes
Season 07 – 34 Episodes
Season 08 – 38 Episodes
Season 09 – 36 Episodes
Season 10 – 36 Episodes
Season 11 – 32 Episodes
Season 12 – 29 Episodes
Season 13 – 25 Episodes
Season 14 – 26 Episodes
Season 15 – 26 Episodes
Season 16 – 24 Episodes
Season 17 – 24 Episodes
Season 18 – 24 Episodes
Season 19 – 24 Episodes
Season 20 – 24 Episodes

Interestingly, during its first few seasons on the Law & Order produced 22 new episodes. Later seasons would actually produce more, either 23 or 24 episodes. Even though it hasn’t produced as many episodes as Gunsmoke, 20 years on the air is still an incredible achievement.


8 Comments

  • ejp says:

    Thank goodness. As one who has gotten increasingly tired with the blatant one-sidedness of Law And Order over the years, the idea of it breaking “Gunsmoke’s: record did not sit well with me at all (much in the same way I was glad that a lousy film like “Titanic” did not surpass “Ben Hur” for most Oscars won by a film).

  • David says:

    It is amazing how years ago a single season of a show consisted of nearly twice as many episodes as a single season today.

  • pBOB says:

    I thought NBC was going to wait until the Sunday upronts to announce either way.

    Law and Order’s downfall was/is the TNT network. They were responsible for half the production costs of the show for over the last few years. Once that contract came to an end (on year 20) they refused to pony up the cash for year 21.

    If Dick Wolf could’ve got a major sponsor like SEARS to cover the production costs maybe he would’ve had a chance of continuing the show.

    I don’t think in our life time we’ll ever see another network show hit this high mark.

  • pBOB says:

    Sorry the NBC upfronts are this coming Monday 5/17.

    I just read NBC was so disappointed with the lackluster pilot for The Rockford Files they might cancel it before they air it.

    Let’s keep our fingers crossed!!!

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    As I’ve mentioned before, the “standard” 39 episode order for most network TV series ended by the early ’60s; the first season “GUNSMOKE” became an hour-long series (in the fall of 1961), CBS ordered only 34 episodes. Then it stabilized at 36 episodes by 1964-’65. When the series finally “converted” to color in the fall of 1966, the number of episodes were drastically cut [because of the extra cost of color film back then] to 29. Then, it slowly decreased towards 26, to a “standard” order of 24 episodes during its last five seasons, through 1975.

    And because the series lasted so long, CBS eventually “split” it into three “packages”:

    1) The original half-hour 1955-’61 episodes, shown on the network as “MARSHAL DILLON” on Tuesdays from 1961 through ’64 (while first-run hour-long episodes aired on Saturdays- hence the change of title), retaining that title when they entered syndication in the fall of ’64 {233 episodes}; the original title has been restored in recent years.
    2) The hour-long black and white 1961-’66 episodes
    {176}: those are currently seen on the “Encore Western” cable channel…
    3) The 1966-’75 color episodes {226}; they’ve been scheduled on “TV Land” ever since that cable channel began operations in 1996…

  • OM says:

    “I just read NBC was so disappointed with the lackluster pilot for The Rockford Files they might cancel it before they air it.

    …Word from a buddy at the local NBC affiliate is that while the pilot tested well, NBC had “issues” with some of the casting, and wanted a couple of changes to the situational format. Neither of which have been explained to the affiliates, which reportedly had mixed reactions, albeit more on the positive side slightly.

  • pBOB says:

    OM – NBC didn’t pick up The Rockford Files for the new fall season but it could still pop up as a mid-season replacement if they can fix those issues which I seriously doubt.

  • Marshall Dillon, you’re still in command.

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