|When producer David Dortort sold
NBC on the idea of creating Bonanza, he thought the show would offer an
interesting contrast to the sitcoms and formula Westerns that filled the TV
schedule at that time. He had no idea he was creating a phenomena that would
air for an incredible 14 years as a first-run show on U.S. TV, be
syndicated to virtually every country around the globe, and introduce
characters who would become beloved by hundred of millions of fans.
|Dortort, a writer turned producer, wanted to create a show that he felt would
counteract the image of the bumbling, inept male depicted on many TV shows in the
50s. He wanted his characters to be strong men. He envisioned them as
descendants of the Knights of the Round Table men with a strong moral compass who
would right wrongs and bring a sense of justice to an untamed land. He created Ben
Cartwright as the strong patriarch, a father who would guide his three sons through both
wise counsel land model behavior. Dortort gave each son unique and different
characteristics. Adam was the intellectual and somewhat brooding oldest son, a man more
likely to use brains rather than brawn. Hoss was the gentle giant, a man of incredible
strength with a heart of gold. Little Joe was the irrepressible youngest son,
impulsive and a romantic at heart. To account for the differences among the sons Dortort
gave each son a different mother, having Ben Cartwright becoming a widower three times.
Instead of the mythical Camelot ,Dortort gave the Cartwrights the sprawling Ponderosa
ranch, an empire of cattle, timber and mining set in the mountains of Nevada, near Lake
Tahoe. Bonanza was one of the first "landed" Westerns, that is, a Western
where the characters had a permanent home to defend and use as a base. Most Westerns of
that era had characters who traveled from town to town, using these travels as a way to
create perilous circumstances. In Bonanza, the Cartwrights dealt with a wide variety
of personalities and situations that, more often than not, came to their doorstep.
|The cast included Lorne Green as Ben
Cartwright. Greene was best known before Bonanza for his deep, booming voice. A
Canadian, Greene had been known as "The Voice of Canada", a tag he received
because of the numerous radio broadcasts in which he participated in that country. Pernell Roberts drew the role of Adam, and Dan Blocker was cast as Hoss. Michael
Landon became Little Joe.
All four actors had
performed in numerous small roles on American TV, but none were well known to the viewing
public. That quickly changed once Bonanza hit the airways.
|The first episode of Bonanza aired on September 12, 1959. The show was
hardly an instant success. For its first two seasons, Bonanza struggled in the
ratings, kept on the air mainly because it was filmed in color. Color TV was a new
phenomena at that time, and RCA (NBCs parent company) wanted a show that would
encourage viewers to purchase the new television sets. Early episodes included many
shots of the beautiful Lake Tahoe area as well as sets and costumes that featured rich,
dark colors. Bonanza languished on Saturday night for two years before NBC chose to
move it to a Sunday night time slot.
Sunday night, the show found an audience and became a hit. For 10 of its 14 year run,
Bonanza was consistently in the top 10 of all rated TV shows, and from 1964 to 1967, it
was the single most watched television program in America.
|In many ways,
Bonanza was ahead of its time. The show dealt with then-controversial issues, such
as racial prejudice, psychological problems, drug and alcohol abuse, and mercy killing.
The writers also kept the viewers interested by offering contrasting shows. One
week, an episode would be a compelling drama and the next week, the episode would have a
comedic theme. Such was the excellence of the cast that the four stars
handled drama and comedy with equal ease. Each actor had the ability to create a
scene filled with tension or heart-wrenching tenderness, then turn around and send the
audience into gales of laughter with hilarious misadventures.
|Fans also could count
on each episode having, if not a happy ending, at least a satisfying one. Good always
triumphed over evil. Characters could be counted on to eventually do the right
thing, no matter how painful or upsetting it might be for the Cartwrights. Ben
reinforced the family's values with quiet lectures and comforting words. Audiences
knew they could enjoy Bonanza without worrying about scenes of overt sex or horrifying
| The last new episode of Bonanza aired on
January 16, 1973.
Bonanza was more than a TV
Western about a man and his three sons working as a family in the rough and violent era of
the Old West. It has become a piece of the fabric of American culture. Ben
Cartwright and his sons Adam, Hoss and Little Joe are familiar names to people who weren't
even born when the show first aired and the shows distinctive opening theme is
instantly recognized everywhere. Bonanza continues to be popular as it airs in syndicated
re-runs both in the U.S. and in numerous other countries, spawning Internet fan clubs and
creating new fans every time it is shown.
|The cast of Bonanza
continued with successful careers after the show was canceled. Michael Landon, who
had begun his writing and directing career while on Bonanza, became a successful
producer-director-writer as well as a popular actor. His two subsequent series
Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven were immensely popular.
Lorne Greene had starring roles in the series BattleStar Galactica and Code Red.
David Canary has crafted a successful career in soap operas. Even Pernell
Roberts returned to TV, starring in Trapper John M.D.
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courtesy of Bonanza Ventures, Inc. Thank you for your permission to
honor this great American show.
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