Gunsmoke and Star Trek are the Same Show

Star Trek

Star Trek

Gunsmoke and Star Trek are the Same Show



Since it is the holidays I am spending more time at home than at work. Given the many important things I have to do at home, I found myself watching an episode of Gunsmoke (1955-1975). The show reminded me of something I have thought  about for a while: Gunsmoke and Star Trek are the Same Show. Star Trek ran from 1966-1969 so there is some overlap. Since we live in such a wondrous time I consulted the Google to see if anyone else believed as I do that Gunsmoke and Star Trek are the Same Show. The first reference that popped  up was from the Toledo Blade from December 16, 1971 where this idea was put forth in an interview with Leonard Nimoy who portrayed the emotionless, pointy eared Vulcan Mr. Spock.   Since this article was published almost 43 years ago to the date I am not claiming the invention of this idea, only its’ most recent manifestation.

I have been interested in the structural analysis of myth since I was first introduced to it in a 101 anthropology text-book. When I found out that Dorothy Gale from the Wizard of Oz  (1939) and Luke Skywalker from Star Wars (1977) are the same character with essentially the same name I was hooked. Danny Yee (1993) explains it better than I ever could in his 1993 review of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ The Raw and the Cooked (1966) – “The basic idea is that myths cannot be understood in isolation, but only as parts of an entire myth system. A structural analysis of a myth system involves elucidating the shared features of different myths and the transformations which link them. It is these relationships and transformations between myths that are important, rather than the details of individual myths; it is the systems of these that are significant in the context of the broader culture. Lévi-Strauss’ hope is that this kind of structural approach will provide new insight into the study of mythology, and the The Raw and the Cooked is the first book in a series devoted to this end.”

Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City following the American Civil War and of course Star Trek was set in space following, I believe, the Dominion Wars. It would seem at first blush that the wild west and space make great backdrops for story telling. However it seems that the epic hero has to be outside of the bounds and constrained roles of normal society where everyone knows their part in The Dance of Life (Hall 1983). Therefore we take our teams to a place where the rules are being learned and the hero has the opportunity to be righteous in  an environment where the rules and other players are unpredictable at best.

In both of these television shows the group is led by a powerful white male which is simply a product of the time the shows were made. What is different about these two shows is that the epic hero is not only great in his own right but is great because of the group he gathers around himself and the interplay between all of the team. Just as Dorothy Gale recruited a straw man (no brain), metal man (no heart), and a furry man (coward), Luke Skywalker recruited a droid (contained/accessed all knowledge), a gold man (worried for the group), and a furry alien (fearless) the two leads in these shows surrounded themselves with doctors, powerful women, tinkers, and a scientist/anti-scientist.


On Gunsmoke James Arness played Marshall Matt Dillion a tough lawman with a sense of fair play. He was devoted to a single woman, but clearly a woman of low moral repute. His counterpoint on Star Trek Captain James Kirk (William Shattner) was never loyal to any woman and never missed a chance to make his moves including green women. He and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) were also credited with the first interracial (black/white) kiss on a television show.

On Star Trek the first officer Mr. Spock was played by Leonard Nimoy.  Mr. Spock was a Vulcan of pure intellect who was devoid of emotions. Of course all true Trek fans know that Spock was half human and struggled with his emotional side. On Gunsmoke Ken Curtis played Marshall Dillon’s deputy Festus Haggen. Festus was kind of, let’s say, not smart–the very antithesis of Spock. However sometimes he would show flashes of great insight making him almost the opposite of Spook in every way. While Spook struggled with who he was, Festus never did. Festus knew who and what he was and embraced it fully.

Naturally both groups had a doctor to tend to the gun shot and phaser wounds as well as dispense advise in the name of medicine.  Both of the doctors were very good at their jobs, extremely cranky, and constantly at odds with the leaders second in command. Milburn Stone played the Doc on Gunsmoke and DeForest Kelley played Dr. McCoy on Star Trek. Doc hated Festus, in a good way, for his simple ideas while McCoy was consistently at odds with Spock because of his lack of emotions.  

In Gunsmoke Amanda Blake played Ms. Kitty. Kitty was the saloon madam and ran herd over rowdy cow pokes. She was clearly the Marshall’s girlfriend but he never seemed to commit to her. There is even a line about it in a popular Toby Keith song. Kitty was strong and only would let down her guard with the Marshall. In Star Trek Uhura was played by Nichelle Nichols and she was one of the first African-American women on television that was not cast in a subservient role. She was a full member of the crew leadership. Uhura was a gifted linguists and able to handle anything the came in over her head set. Opposed Ms. Kitty, Uhura didn’t generally have a love interest.  As for the aforementioned kiss they were both under alien control at the time.

Finally we come to Scott on Star Trek who was played by James Doohan. Scott could fix anything on the ship but his best skill was over estimating the time it would take for the job and as such appearing to work mechanical magic. The nearest counterpart on Gunsmoke was Chester who was played by Dennis Weaver another deputy of the Marshall. However this connect is not that strong and might fit better with Newly O’Brian, played by Buck Taylor, who had gunsmiths skills.

So without going too far into detail it seems that Gunsmoke and Star Trek are the same show. The setting and the characters are cognate satisfying the standards for structural analysis. In conclusion, it is well documented that Kirk in Star Trek is the boy who would never grow up AKA Peter Pan. The franchise played on this at the end of Star Trek 1 when Kirk gave the heading “first star on the right and straight on until morning.” It might be fun to look at Marshall Dillon and company to see if he is also Peter Pan.

PS: I published this and forgot the most important evidence. Paul Fix was cast in the role of Dr. Mark Piper on the second pilot episode for Star Trek – “Wher No Man Has Gone Before.” You may recall that the network did not like the first pilot and wanted the show to be more like Wagon Train in space. This also happened to the Kung Fu Series a decade or so later. In 1966, when NBC picked up the Star Trek series they cast veteran western actor DeForest Kelly as the doctor replacing Fix. Since Fix was on both shows, Ned I say more.

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