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Bonanza (TV series)

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Bonanza (TV series)

This article is about the television program. For other uses, see Bonanza (disambiguation).

Also known as Ponderosa
Genre Western
Created by David Dortort
Starring Lorne Greene
Pernell Roberts
Dan Blocker
Michael Landon
Victor Sen Yung
David Canary
Mitch Vogel
Ray Teal
Bing Russell
Tim Matheson
Theme music composer Ray Evans
Jay Livingston
Opening theme "Bonanza"
Composer(s) David Rose
Walter Scharf
Harry Sukman
Fred Steiner (12.21)
William Lava
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 14
No. of episodes 430 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) David Dortort
Mark Roberts
Producer(s) Fred Hamilton
Running time 49 minutes
Production companies NBC
Distributor CBS Television Distribution
Original channel NBC
Picture format NTSC
Audio format Mono
Original run September 12, 1959 (1959-09-12) – January 16, 1973 (1973-01-16)

Bonanza is an NBC television western series that ran from September 12, 1959 to January 16, 1973. Lasting 14 seasons and 430 episodes, it ranks as the second longest running western series (behind Gunsmoke), and the fourth longest running episodic series in U.S broadcast history: Gunsmoke (635 episodes), The Simpsons (532 episodes through September 14, 2013), Law and Order (original- 456 episodes), Bonanza (430 episodes), Ozzie and Harriet (425 episodes). It continues to air in syndication.

The show centers on the Cartwright family, who live in the area of Virginia City, Nevada, bordering Lake Tahoe. The series stars Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, and later, David Canary.

The title "Bonanza" is a term used by miners in regard to a large vein or deposit of ore,[1] and commonly refers to The Comstock Lode. In 2002, Bonanza was ranked No. 43 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time,[2] and in 2013 TV Guide included it in its list of The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time.[3] The time period for the television series is roughly between 1861 (Season 1) to 1867 (Season 13) during and shortly after the American Civil War.

During the summer of 1972, NBC aired reruns of episodes from the 1967-1970 period in prime time on Sunday evening under the title Ponderosa.[4]


The show chronicles the weekly adventures of the Cartwright family, headed by the thrice-widowed patriarch Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene). He had three sons, each by a different wife: the eldest was the urbane architect Adam Cartwright (Pernell Roberts) who built the ranch house; the second was the warm and lovable giant Eric "Hoss" (Dan Blocker); and the youngest was the hotheaded and impetuous Joseph or "Little Joe" (Michael Landon). Via exposition (Bonanza, "Rose For Lotta", premiere September 12, 1959) and flashback episodes, each wife was accorded a different ethnicity: English (Bonanza, "Elizabeth My Love"; episode #65) Swedish (Bonanza, "Inger My Love", episode #95) and French Creole (Bonanza, "Marie My Love", episode #120) respectively. The family's cook was the Chinese immigrant Hop Sing (Victor Sen Yung). Greene, Roberts, Blocker, and Landon were billed equally. The opening credits would alternate the order among the four stars.

The family lived on a 600,000+ acre (937+ square-mile) ranch called the Ponderosa on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe in Nevada.[5] The vast size of the Cartwrights' land was quietly revised to "half a million acres" on Lorne Greene's 1964 song, "Saga of the Ponderosa." The ranch name refers to the Ponderosa Pine, common in the West. The nearest town to the Ponderosa was Virginia City, where the Cartwrights would go to converse with Sheriff Roy Coffee (played by veteran actor Ray Teal), or his deputy Clem Foster (Bing Russell).

Bonanza was considered an atypical western for its time, as the core of the storylines dealt less about the range but more with Ben and his three dissimilar sons, how they cared for one another, their neighbors, and just causes. "You always saw stories about family on comedies or on an anthology, but Bonanza was the first series that was week-to-week about a family and the troubles it went through. Bonanza was a period drama that attempted to confront contemporary social issues. That was very difficult to do on television. Most shows that tried to do it failed because the sponsors didn't like it, and the networks were nervous about getting letters", explains Stephen Battaglio, a senior editor for TV Guide magazine (Paulette Cohn, "Bonanza: TV Trailblazer", American Profile Magazine, p. 12, June 5, 2009).

Episodes ranged from high drama ("Bushwacked", episode #392, 1971; "Shanklin", episode #409, 1972), to broad comedy ("Hoss and the Leprechauns", episode #146, 1964; "Caution, Bunny Crossing", episode #358, 1969), and addressed issues such as the environment ("Different Pines, Same Wind", episode #304, 1968), substance abuse ("The Hidden Enemy", episode #424, 1972), domestic violence ("First Love", episode #427, 1972), anti-war sentiment ("The Weary Willies", episode #364, 1970), and illegitimate births ("Love Child", episode #370, 1970; "Rock-A-Bye Hoss", episode #393, 1971). The series sought to illustrate the cruelty of bigotry against: Asians ("The Fear Merchants", episode #27, 1960; "The Lonely Man", episode #404, 1971), African-Americans ("Enter Thomas Bowers", episode #164, 1964; "The Wish", episode #326, 1968; "Child", episode #305, 1969), Native Americans ("The Underdog", episode #180, 1964; "Terror at 2:00", episode #384, 1970), Jews, ("Look to the Stars", episode #90, 1962); Mormons ("The Pursued, episodes #239-40, 1966), the disabled ("Tommy", episode #249, 1966) and "little people" ("It's A Small World", episode #347, 1968).

Originally, the Cartwrights tended to be depicted as put-off by outsiders. Lorne Greene, however, objected to this, pointing out that as the area's largest timber and livestock producer, the family should be less clannish. The producers agreed with this observation and changed the Cartwrights to be more amiable.

The cast

Though not familiar stars in 1959, the cast quickly became favorites of the first television generation.

Lorne Greene – Ben Cartwright

Canadian-born Lorne Greene starred as widowed, family patriarch Ben Cartwright. Ben Cartwright was listed as TV's #2 favorite dad (TV Guide Top 50 Dad's of All Time, by Raisley Gordon, TV Guide, 2007). Early in the show's history, Ben Cartwright recalls each of his late wives in flashback episodes. A standard practice with most westerns was to introduce some romance but avoid matrimony. Few media cowboys had on-screen wives. Any time one of the Cartwrights seriously courted a woman, she died from a malady, was abruptly slain, or left with someone else.

Greene appeared in all but Twelve Bonanza episodes for its run,

Pernell Roberts – Adam Cartwright

Georgia-born Pernell Roberts played eldest son Adam, an architectural engineer with a university education. Adam built the impressive ranch house ("The Philip Diedesheimer Story", Oct. 31, 1959; "Bonanza: The Return", NBC TV, April 21, 1993). Roberts disdained the assembly-line mindset of serial television (a rigid 34 episode season), and fought with series writers regarding Adam's lack of independence, noting that his thirty-plus year old character was dependent on his "Pa's" approval. Despite the show's success, Roberts departed the series after the 1964–65 season (after 202 episodes) and returned to stage productions. Attempts to replace Adam with Cartwright cousin Will (Guy "Zorro" Williams), and Little Joe's maternal half-brother Clay (Barry Coe) were unsuccessful ("Bonanza: Scenery of the Ponderosa: Candy Canaday"). A season six storyline called for Adam, with his new bride and step daughter, leaving the Ponderosa. After four weeks, scripts were revised by having Guy Williams' Will depart the series prematurely, with Adam's fiancee at his side. It was Landon, not Roberts, who objected to the infusion of any new Cartwrights ("Bonanza: Scenery of the Ponderosa: Candy Canaday"). After Roberts did leave the following year, it was eventually mentioned that Adam had gone "to sea", and in the later movies he had emigrated to Australia. In Autumn of 1972, the series producers considered inviting Roberts back in the wake of Dan Blocker's passing: "One suggestion was to return Pernell Roberts, who had played another Cartwright son when Bonanza first hit the airwaves fourteen years ago. We only considered that briefly," {producer Richard] Collins says... Some people felt it was a logical step- the oldest son returning at a time of family need- but most of us didn't think it would work." (Dick Kleiner, NEA, July 18, 1972)

Dan Blocker – Eric "Hoss" Cartwright

Dan Blocker was six foot four and three hundred twenty pounds (Michael Landon, "The Tonight Show", March 19, 1982) when chosen to play the gentle middle son Eric, better known as Hoss. The nickname was used as a nod to the character's ample girth,[6] an endearing term for "big and friendly", used by his Swedish mother (& Uncle Gunnar),[7] or a rib to his humiliating, failed attempt to break a horse (Ponderosa, "Pilot", PAX-TV, episode No. 1). In the Bonanza flashback (Bonanza, "Journey Remembered", episode #142, NBC-TV, 1964), his mother Inger names him Eric after her father. To satisfy young Adam, Inger and Ben agree to try the nickname Hoss and "see which one sticks". " Inger says of "hoss", "In the mountain country, that is the name for a big, friendly man."

In May 1972, Blocker died suddenly from a post-operative pulmonary embolism following surgery to remove a failing gall bladder. The producers felt nobody else could continue the role. It was the first time a TV show's producers chose to kill off a major male character (though it was done twice previously with female leads- in 1956 on Make Room For Daddy, and again in 1963 with The Real McCoys). Not until the TV-movie Bonanza: The Next Generation (Syndicated, 1988) was it explained that Hoss had drowned attempting to save a woman's life.

Michael Landon – Joseph "Little Joe" Cartwright

Michael Landon played the youngest, feistiest Cartwright son, whose mother Marie was of French Creole descent. Landon began to develop his skills in writing and directing Bonanza episodes, starting with "The Gamble." Most of the episodes Landon wrote and directed were dramas, including the 1972 two hour, "Forever", which was recognized by TV guide as being one of television's best specials (November 1993). Landon's development, however, was a bit stormy according to David Dortort, who felt that the actor grew more difficult during the last five seasons the show ran. ("Bonanza" four DVD set biography notes, Bear Family Records). Landon appeared in all but fourteen Bonanza episodes for its run, a total of 416 episodes.

In the episodes "First Born" (1962) and "Marie, My Love" (1963), viewers learn of Little Joe's older, maternal half-brother Clay Stafford. According to Lorne Greene's song "Saga of the Ponderosa" ("Bonanza" four CD set biography notes/song, Bear Family Records, 1964), Marie's first husband was "Big Joe" Collins, who dies saving Ben's life. Ben travels to Marie to break the sad news, and the two bond. After Ben marries Marie, they choose to honor "Big Joe" by calling their son "Little Joe". Whether to Stafford or Collins, Marie Cartwright was previously married.

Marie's first husband's name was Jean De'Marigny (episode "Marie my Love" and episode "First Born" ) Ir was never explained why Clay used the name Stafford instead of De'Marigny (episode "First Born")

Joe was named Joseph after Ben's father. In the episode "Journey Remembered" when Hoss is born Ben said they had been thinking about naming the baby after his father, Joseph, but named him Eric after Inger's father. He told the person he was talking to that if they had another son later they would name him Joseph. Joe told Lotta Crabtree in the pilot episode that he was called Little Joe because he came after Hoss who was so big. In one of the many Bonanza "Return" TV movies it was revealed that the character of "Little Joe" had died in the Spanish American War as a member of the "Rough Riders" going up San Juan Hill.

David Canary – "Candy" Canaday

In 1967, David Canary joined the cast as "Candy" Canaday, a plucky Army brat turned cowboy ("Sense of Duty", episode 271, September 24, 1967), who became the Cartwrights' confidant, ranch foreman, and timber vessel captain. Dortort was impressed by Canary's talent, but the character vanished in September 1970, after Canary had a contract dispute. He would return two seasons later after co-star Dan Blocker's death, reportedly having been approached by Landon.

Victor Sen Yung – Hop Sing

Chinese American actor Victor Sen Yung played the Cartwrights' happy-go-lucky cook, whose blood pressure rose when the family came late for dinner. Cast here as the faithful domestic, the comedy relief character had little to do beyond chores. He once used martial arts to assail a towering family foe (Bonanza, "Stage Door Johnnies", 7/28/68). Though often referenced, Hop Sing only appeared in an average of eight to nine shows each season. As a semi-regular cast member, Sen Yung was only paid per episode. After 14 years, Sen Yung was widely known, but making far less than his Ponderosa peers. The Hop Sing character was central in only two episodes: "Mark Of Guilt" (#316) and "The Lonely Man" (#404).

Mitch Vogel – Jamie Hunter/Cartwright

Absent Canary in mid-1970, and aware of the show's aging demographic, the writers sought a fresh outlet for Ben's fatherly advice. Fourteen-year-old Mitch Vogel was introduced as Jamie Hunter in the 363rd episode, "A Matter of Faith" (September 20, 1970). Vogel played the red-haired orphan of a roving rainmaker, whom Ben takes in and adopted later in a 1971 episode.


Further information: List of Bonanza episodes

Broadcast history

  • Saturday at 7:30-8:30 PM on NBC: September 12, 1959—June 3, 1961
  • Sunday at 9:00-10:00 PM on NBC: September 24, 1961—April 2, 1972
  • Tuesday at 8:00-9:00 PM on NBC: September 12, 1972—January 16, 1973


  • October 1959 – April 1960: Not in the Top 30
  • October 1960 – April 1961: #17/24.8
  • October 1961 – April 1962: #2/30.0
  • October 1962 – April 1963: #4/29.8 (tied with The Lucy Show)
  • October 1963 – April 1964: #2/36.9
  • October 1964 – April 1965: #1/36.3
  • October 1965 – April 1966: #1/31.8
  • October 1966 – April 1967: #1/29.1
  • October 1967 – April 1968: #4/25.5 (tied with Gunsmoke and Family Affair)
  • October 1968 – April 1969: #3/26.6
  • October 1969 – April 1970: #3/24.8
  • October 1970 – April 1971: #9/23.9
  • October 1971 – April 1972: #20/21.9
  • October 1972 – April 1973: Not in the Top 30

Initially, Bonanza aired on Saturday evenings opposite Perry Mason. However, Bonanza's ratings were dismal and the show was soon targeted for cancellation. However, NBC kept it because Bonanza was one of the first series to be filmed and broadcast in color, including scenes of picturesque Lake Tahoe Nevada. NBC's corporate parent, Radio Corporation of America (RCA), used the show to spur sales of RCA-manufactured color television sets (RCA was also the primary sponsor of the series during its first two seasons).

NBC moved Bonanza to Sundays at 9:00 pm Eastern with new sponsor Chevrolet (replacing The Dinah Shore Chevy Show). The new time slot caused Bonanza to soar in the ratings, and it eventually reached number one by 1964, an honor it would keep until 1967 when it was seriously challenged by the artistically daring variety show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS. By 1970, Bonanza was the first series to appear in the Top Five list for nine consecutive seasons (a record that would stand for many years) and thus established itself as the single biggest hit television series of the 1960s. Bonanza remained high on the Nielsen ratings until 1971, when it finally fell out of the Top Ten.

During the summer of 1972, NBC broadcast reruns of episodes of the show from the 1967-1970 era on Tuesday evenings at 7:30 p.m. under the title Ponderosa while also rerunning more recent episodes on Sunday evenings in the show's normal time slot as Bonanza.[4]



From the fourth season on, the Cartwrights and nearly every other recurring character on the show wore the same clothing in almost every episode. The reason for this is twofold: it made duplication of wardrobe easier for stunt doubles (Hal Burton, Bob Miles, Bill Clark, Lyle Heisler, Ray Mazy) and it cut the cost of refilming action shots (such as riding clips in-between scenes), as previously shot stock footage could be reused. Below is a survey of costumes employed:

  • Ben Cartwright: Sandy shirt, tawny leather vest, gray pants, cream-colored hat, occasional green scarf.
  • Adam Cartwright: Black Shirt, black or midnight blue pants, black hat. Elegant city wear. Cream-colored trail coat.
  • Hoss Cartwright: White shirt, brown suede vest, brown pants, large beige flat-brimmed, ten-gallon hat.
  • Little Joe Cartwright: Beige, light gray shirt, kelly-green corduroy jacket, tan pants, beige hat. Black leather gloves from 10th season on. In season 14, he and Greene occasionally wore different shirts and slacks, as the footage of them and the late Dan Blocker together could no longer be reused.
  • Candy Canaday: Crimson shirt, black pants, black leather vest, black hat, grey/ pale purple scarf.

Hair styles

In 1968, Blocker began wearing a toupee on the series, as he was approaching age 40 and losing hair. He joined the ranks of his fellow co-stars Roberts and Greene, both of whom had begun the series with hairpieces (Greene wore his modest frontal piece in private life too, whereas Roberts preferred not wearing his, even to rehearsals/blocking). Landon was the only original cast member who was wig-free throughout the series, as even Sen Yung wore an attached queue.

Theme song

"Bonanza" also features a memorable theme song by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans that was orchestrated by David Rose and arranged by Bly May for the television series.

The Bonanza theme song famously opens with a blazing Ponderosa map and saddlebound Cartwrights. The melodic intro, emulating galloping horses, is one of the most recognized television scores. Variations of the theme were used for twelve seasons on the series. Although there were two official sets of lyrics (some country-western singers, avoiding royalties, substituted the copyright renditions with their own words), the series simply used an instrumental theme. Three of the cast members bellowed-out the original lyrics, sans music, at the close of the pilot (Pernell Roberts, the sole professional singer of the quartet, abstained and untethered the horse reins). Before the pilot aired (on September 12, 1959), the song sequence, deemed too campy, was edited out of the scene and instead the Cartwrights headed back to the ranch whooping and howling. In a 1964 song, the Livingston-Evans lyrics were revised by Lorne Greene with a more familial emphasis, "on this land we put our brand, Cartwright is the name, fortune smiled the day we filed the Ponderosa claim" ("Bonanza", Bear Family Box set, Disc #2). In 1968, a slightly revamped horn and percussion-heavy arrangement of the original score introduced the series- which was used until 1970. A new theme song, called "The Big Bonanza" was written in 1970 by episode scorer David Rose, and was used from 1970–1972. Action-shot pictorials of the cast replaced the galloping trio. Finally, a faster rendition of the original music returned for the 14th and final season, along with action shots of the cast.

The theme song has been recorded by numerous artists in a diverse variety of styles. The first recorded and released version was an instrumental by Marty Gold, on his 1960 album Swingin' West. This was followed by the February, 1960 single by Buddy Morrow and his Orchestra, which included vocals. Morrow's version also appeared on his 1960 album Double Impact which featured several other then-recent television themes. In December, 1960, another vocal version was issued only in the United Kingdom by Johnny Gregory and his Orchestra and Chorus released on the Fontana label. All aforementioned vocal versions, including the television pilot, used lyrics written by Livingston and Evans contained in the first published sheet music for the song, though not all the lyrics were sung. A Bonanza soundtrack album released in late 1961 included a version by David Rose; Rose also had a 1960 single and included the theme on his 1961 album Exodus in a different mix. The biggest hit version is a guitar instrumental by Al Caiola, which reached number 19 on Billboard in 1961. Other versions were released by Billy Vaughn, Valjean, Lorne Greene, and Nelson Riddle.

Country singer Johnny Cash was first to record a full length vocal version of the theme song. He and Johnny Western discarded the original Livingston and Evans lyrics, and wrote new ones. The song first saw release by September, 1962 as a single. Sometime after June, 1963, it was released as a track on his sixteenth album: Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash. This version was later covered by Faron Young for his 1963 album Aims at the West. Singer Ralf Paulsen recorded a German-language version of the song in 1963, released in mid-June, 1963 on Capitol Records in the United States. His German version (lyrics attributed to "Nicolas") was sung in the same style and mood in which Cash had recorded it, and was fairly close in translation.

Bad Manners did a ska version of the song, as did the Hurtin' Buckaroos. Michael Richards, as Stanley Spadowski, sang a bit of the theme song while being held hostage by Channel 8's news goons in UHF (he did not know the words to the song he was originally supposed to sing, "Helter Skelter"). Michael Feinstein was the last to record the song in 2002 on his Songs of Evans and Livingston tribute CD. The Little House on the Prairie theme (also by Rose), was heard first in a 1971 episode of Bonanza. The overture for The High Chaparral composed by Harry Sukman can be heard briefly at the start of the 1966 episode "Four Sisters from Boston".


The opening scene for the first season was shot at Lake Hemet, a reservoir in the San Jacinto Mountains, Riverside County, California, and later moved to Lake Tahoe. During the first season extra horses were rented from the Idyllwild Stables in Idyllwild, also in the San Jacinto Mountains. The first Virginia City set was used on the show until 1970 and was located on a backlot at Paramount and featured in episodes of Have Gun – Will Travel, Mannix, and The Brady Bunch. In the 1970 premiere episode of the twelfth season entitled "The Night Virginia City Died", Deputy Clem Foster's pyromaniac fiancée levels the town in a series of fires. (Chosen, in part, as a real 1875 fire destroyed three-quarters of Virginia City.) This allowed for a switch to the less expensive Warner studios from September 1970 through January 1973. The script was initially written for the departing David Canary's Candy. It is rare, in that both actors Ray Teal (Sheriff Roy Coffee) and Bing Russell (Deputy Clem Foster) appear together.

The program's Nevada set, the Ponderosa Ranch house, was recreated in Incline Village, Nevada, in 1967, and remained a tourist attraction until its sale in September 2004.

Social issues addressed

Bonanza is uniquely known for having addressed racism, not typically covered on American television during the time period, from a compassionate, humanitarian point-of-view.

Bigotry, and specifically anti-semitism, was the subject of the episode "Look to the Stars" (Season 3, Episode 26; original air date March 18, 1962). A bigoted school teacher (oblivious to his prejudice) routinely expels minority students. When he expels the brilliant Jewish student Albert Michaelson, a scientific genius whose experiments on the streets of Virginia City often cause commotion, Ben Cartwright steps in and confronts Norton on his bigotry. Ashamed, the school teacher vows to reform.[8] A coda to the episode reveals that Michaelson went on to win the Nobel Prize for Physics.

In the episode "Enter Thomas Bowers" (Season 5, Episode 30; original air date April 26, 1964), the Cartwright family helps the opera singer Bowers, an African American freedman, after he encounters prejudice while in Virginia City to perform. Bowers winds up arrested as a fugitive slave. At the beginning of the episode, Adam is shown to be outraged at the Supreme Court's Dredd Scott v. Sandford decision (placing the time as 1857), which he discusses with his father. According to David Dortort, sponsor General Motors was anxious about the episode. As producer, Dortort ensured that the episode re-aired during the summer rerun seasons, though two TV stations in the South refused to air it.[9]

In the The Wish episode, directed by Michael Landon, Hoss protects an African American former slave's family when confronted with racism after the American Civil War. In The Fear Merchants episode, discrimination against Chinese immigrants who attempt to assimilate in American society is addressed.[10][11] In the episode The Lonely Man is presented the problem of interracial marriage between a Chinese man (Hop Sing) and a white woman (Missy).

Merchandising Bonanza

Bonanza has had a highly profitable merchandising history. Currently, Bonanza Ventures, Inc. grants merchandising and licensing rights worldwide. The original series has spawned: several successful novelty western/folk albums from 1962–1965; three dozen Dell and Gold Key comic books from 1962 through 1970; Jim Beam Whiskey Ponderosa Ranch decanters 1964–1966; a series of "Big-Little" books from 1966–1969; Revel Bonanza model character sets from 1966–1968; a chain of Bonanza and Ponderosa steakhouses from 1963–present; the Lake Tahoe-based "Ponderosa" theme park from 1967–2004; a line of American Character action figures in 1966–1967; Aladdin lunch buckets and thermos bottles in 1966–1968; View Master slide sets from 1965–1973; Ponderosa tin cups from 1967–2004; a series of Hamilton collector plates in 1989–1990; and most recently, Breyer Fiftieth Anniversary Ponderosa Stable sets, with horses and Cartwright figures in 2009–2011. Six Bonanza novels have been published: Bonanza: One Man With Courage by Thomas Thompson (1966); The Ponderosa Spirit by Stephen Calder (1988); The Ponderosa Empire by Stephen Calder (1991); Bonanza: High Steel Hazard by Stephen Calder (1993); Bonanza: Felling of the Sons by Monette B. Reinhold (2005), and Bonanza: Mystic Fire by Monette B. Reinhard (2009). Bonanza Gold (2003–2009), a quarterly magazine, featured detailed information about the show, including interviews with guest actors and other production personnel, articles about historical events and people depicted in the series, fan club information, and fan fiction. The first four seasons (as of 11/2012) are available on DVD, as well as several non-successive public-domain episodes (sans original theme music). The prequel series, The Ponderosa (see above), is also available on DVD.

Cancelation and resurgence

In the fall of 1972, NBC moved Bonanza to Tuesday nights – where reruns from the 1967-1970 period had aired the previous summer under the title Ponderosa[4] – opposite the All In The Family spinoff show, Maude. The scheduling change, as well as Dan Blocker's death several months earlier, resulted in plunging ratings for the show. David Canary returned to his former role of Candy (to offset Hoss's absence), and a new character named Griff King (played by Tim Matheson) was added to lure younger viewers. Griff, in prison for nearly killing his abusive stepfather, was paroled into Ben's custody and got a job as a ranch hand. Several episodes were built around his character, one that Matheson never had a chance to fully develop before the show's abrupt cancellation in November 1972 (with last episode airing January 16, 1973). Many fans felt that the Hoss character was essential, as he was a nurturing, empathetic soul who rounded out the all-male cast.

For 14 years, the Cartwrights were the premier western family on American television and have been immensely popular on cable networks such as TV Land, ION (formerly PAX), Family Channel, and the Hallmark Channel. The series currently airs on Me-TV, TV Land, My Family TV, The Inspiration Network, and Encore Westerns.

Television movies

Bonanza was revived for three made-for-television movies featuring the Cartwrights' offspring: Bonanza: The Next Generation (1988), Bonanza: The Return (1993), and Bonanza: Under Attack (1995). Michael Landon, Jr., played Little Joe's son Benji while Gillian Greene, Lorne Greene's daughter, played a love interest. In the second movie, airing on NBC, a one-hour retrospective was done to introduce the drama. It was hosted by both Michael Landon, Jr., and Dirk Blocker. According to the magazine TV Guide, producer Dortort told Blocker he was too old to play the Hoss scion, but gave him the role of an unrelated newspaper reporter. Clips of his appearance were heavily used in advertisements promoting the "second generation" theme, perhaps misleading audiences to believe that Blocker was playing Hoss's heir. Hoss's son Josh was born out of wedlock, as it is explained that Hoss drowned without knowing his fiancėe was pregnant. Such a storyline might have been problematic in the original series. (The Big Valley, however, had a major character in Heath, who was presented as illegitimate. The Gunsmoke movies of the early 1990s employed a similar theme when Marshal Matt Dillon learned he had sired Michael Learned's daughter in a short-lived romance. The initial story was first introduced in 1973, when depiction of fornication courted protests, so CBS insisted their hero Matt have the encounter when he had amnesia.)


In 2001, there was an attempt to revive the Bonanza concept with a prequel, Ponderosa – not to be confused with the 1972 summer reruns under the same title[4] – with a pilot directed by Simon Wincer and filmed in Australia. Covering the time when the Cartwrights first arrived at the Ponderosa, when Adam was a teenager and Joe a little boy, the series lasted 20 episodes and featured less gunfire and brawling than the original. Bonanza creator David Dortort approved PAX TV (now Ion TV)'s decision to hire Beth Sullivan, a producer from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, which some believe gave the series more depth as well as a softer edge. The Hop Sing character is depicted not only as a cook but also a family counselor and herbal healer.

Home video and DVD releases

The last few episodes of Bonanza Season One and the first episodes of Season Two have fallen into the public domain. These episodes have been released by many different companies in different configurations and usually with substandard picture and sound quality, and by legal necessity with the copyright protected Evans-Livingston theme song replaced with generic western music.

In 1973, NBC sold the rights to the series, along with the rest of its pre-1973 library, to National Telefilm Associates, which changed its name to Republic Pictures in 1986. Republic would become part of the Spelling Entertainment organization in 1994 through Worldvision Enterprises. Select episodes ("The Best of Bonanza") were officially released in North America in 2003 on DVD through then-Republic video licensee Artisan Entertainment (which was later purchased by Lionsgate Home Entertainment). Republic (through CBS Television Distribution, which holds the television side of Republic's holdings) still retains the syndication distribution rights to the series. CBS Home Entertainment (under Paramount Home Media Distribution) is the official home video rights distributor at present.

CBS Home Entertainment (distributed by Paramount) has released the first six seasons on DVD in Region 1. All seasons have been released in two-volume sets. Season 6, volumes 1 & 2 were released on July 9, 2013.[12]

In Region 2, AL!VE AG released the first seven seasons on DVD in Germany between 2008-2010. These releases are now out of print as AL!VE has lost the rights. In 2011, StudioCanal acquired the rights to the series and have begun re-releasing it on DVD, thus far 13 seasons have been released.

Episodes of the series have also been officially released on DVD in France and the United Kingdom.

Bonanza "the official first season" was released in Scandinavia during 2010. The first season is released in 4 volumes. The first two volumes were released on October 20, 2010, and the last two volumes on April 27, 2011. No further releases in Scandinavia are planned.

Region 1

DVD name Ep # Release date
The Official 1st Season, Vol. 1 16 September 15, 2009[13]
The Official 1st Season, Vol. 2 16 September 15, 2009
The Official 2nd Season, Vol. 1 18 December 7, 2010[14]
The Official 2nd Season, Vol. 2 16 October 11, 2011[15]
The Official 3rd Season, Vol. 1 18 July 17, 2012
The Official 3rd Season, Vol. 2 16 July 17, 2012
The Official 4th Season, Vol. 1 18 October 2, 2012
The Official 4th Season, Vol. 2 16 October 2, 2012
The Official 5th Season, Vol. 1 18 February 12, 2013
The Official 5th Season, Vol. 2 16 February 12, 2013
The Official 6th Season, Vol. 1 18 July 9, 2013
The Official 6th Season, Vol. 2 16 July 9, 2013

Region 2

Season Release dates
Germany Scandinavia
Season 1 December 8, 2011 December 20, 2010
April 27, 2011
Season 2 February 16, 2012 No release of seasons 2-14
Season 3 April 19, 2012
Season 4 June 21, 2012
Season 5 August 23, 2012
Season 6 October 18, 2012
Season 7 November 1, 2012
Seasons 1-7 December 6, 2012
Season 8 January 24, 2013[16]
Season 9 February 21, 2013[17]
Season 10 April 18, 2013[18]
Season 11 June 6, 2013
Season 12 August 1, 2013
Season 13 October 2, 2013
Season 14 November 21, 2013
Seasons 8-14 December 5, 2013


  • The film Twin Town alludes to, or even parodies Bonanza. Some of the central characters are members of a Cartwright family, and live in a home called Ponderosa.[19]
  • In the film Tin Men character actor Jackie Gayle provides his own take on Bonanza as a "ridiculous representation of the West' and the even more preposterous premise that the Cartwright sons could be brothers.
  • In American Desperado, co-authored by Jon Roberts (née John Riccobono) and award-winning journalist/author Evan Wright, Roberts shares in Chapter 3 that he missed his "Sea Hunt and Bonanza, [his] favorite TV shows", when his mother sent him to Palermo to live with his father, Nat Riccobono. (Roberts confides in the book that Riccobono - a mobster and illegal alien - had been deported to Sicily following the Apalachin Meeting.) After returning to the United States ("after a few weeks"), Roberts found that, "Watching Bonanza on TV was one thing I had in common with normal kids. [...] But when I listened to how other people talked about Bonanza, I was amazed. [...] My way of seeing it was different. To me the Cartwrights had the might and power, and they used it to take over all that land on their Ponderosa ranch. [...] From the way I saw it, the Cartwrights were the same as my father and uncles in the Mafia. They understood force." Roberts further discloses that, upon his return to the United States: "Because of all the stories in the news about my family, Riccobono was a bad name. My mother told me I had to change my last name. I changed my name to John Pernell Roberts, after Pernell Roberts, who played the oldest son on Bonanza. I liked him best because he wore black. His hat, his vest, his gun belt were all black. He was the top enforcer for the family. He was the kind of guy I wanted to be. I wanted to steal my own Ponderosa when I grew up."[20] Roberts repeats this explanation for his name change in other media, as well, such as the documentary Cocaine Cowboys.
  • In the film The Last Shot, main character Steven Schats has two relatives who portray Bonanza characters as part of a tourist attraction; his brother Marshal is a generic villain and his father is Ben.
  • In the episode of Full House entitled "Subterranean Graduation Blues," the theme song to Bonanza played repeatedly in different situations and for different reasons, which caused Jesse to hold his mouth in pain because his dentist would always hum the song while drilling his teeth as a kid.
  • The Cartwrights made an appearance as "The Cartrocks" on The Flintstones episode "Sheriff for a Day" (Episode 5.21).
  • In the television show Frasier, Martin Crane, Frasier's father, chastises his sons referencing Bonanza saying "If you were Hoss and Little Joe, Ben Cartwright would kick your sorry butts right off the Ponderosa," After apologizing, Frasier tells Niles, his brother, ""He's back on the Cartwrights again. You know, some day we really should ask him just who the hell they are!"
  • On the TV animated comedy Archer (TV series) Ray Gillette claims Bonanza era Lorne Greene is his "Go to movie star"

See also



  • Bonanza: A Viewers Guide to the TV Legend by David Greenland. 167 pages. Publisher: Crosslines Inc (June 1997). ISBN 978-0-9640338-2-5.
  • A Reference Guide to Television's Bonanza: Episodes, Personnel, and Broadcast History by Bruce R. Leiby and Linda F. Leiby. 384 pages. Publisher: McFarland (March 1, 2005). ISBN 978-0-7864-2268-5.
  • Bonanza: The Definitive Ponderosa Companion by Melany Shapiro. 176 pages. Publisher: Cyclone Books; illustrated edition (September 1997). ISBN 978-1-890723-18-7.

External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • Bonanza on
  • Internet Archive
  • on
  • at the Encyclopedia of Television
  • at
  • at
  • Bonanza: Scenery of The Ponderosa
  • Bonanza Episode Guide' at TV Gems
  • Season 1 DVD review and production history


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