Bonanza


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

Tabs

About

Bonanza, the first Western televised in color, premiered on a Saturday night in the fall of 1959. After Gunsmoke, Bonanza was the longest-running and most successful Western in U.S. television, airing for fourteen seasons. The series related the story of Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) and his three sons, Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker) and Little Joe (Michael Landon), prosperous ranchers in the vicinity of Virginia City, Nevada, in the mid 1800s, during the Civil War years and the discovery of the Comstock Silver Lode. The show was designed to appeal to a broad audience, crossing age and gender groups. The action characteristics catered to a more traditional audience for Westerns, while dramatic issues and family values expanded the show's popularity to a more general audience. The careful photography presented beautiful scenery and interiors resembled movies more than other contemporary television shows.

The Cartwrights were not a traditional nuclear family. The patriarch was a three-time widower, with a son from each wife. In the first few seasons, personality differences between the sons motivated most of the plot conflicts. Two years after its debut, Bonanza moved to Sunday night and its popularity soared. By this time, the three sons had worked out most of their differences and the show was about the dealings of a well-integrated all male family as well as their problems with mining and ranch interests. Other characters would wander into the community causing conflict, leading the members of the family individually or communally as a group to restore the order. The oldest son, Adam, was the most serious of the three brothers, the potential patriarch. Middle son, Hoss was the Buffoon type, big and friendly, naive yet explosive. Little Joe was the impulsive and romantic type in the family.

Bonanza differs from other Westerns in its relative use violence and "shoot-outs". Conflicts were resolved through dialogue between the main characters and guest stars. Generally, this one-hour show tackled topical issues (i.e.: racial discrimination, voting, religion). Famous guest stars such as Yvonne De Carlo, Ida Lupino, Barry Sullivan, Ricardo Cortez and Jack Carson added to the show's popularity. Bonanza was also the first show to introduce the ranch, in this case the thousand-acre Ponderosa, as an important element in the narrative, the fifth character, as producers referred to it. Brauer and Brauer (1975) argue that this emphasis on the "piece of land" was symbolic of a shift in emphasizing mobility, the lone wanderer, with his gun and horse to a focus on the settle landowner. These changes also led to a restructuring of the leading characters' role in the community.

The cook at Ponderosa was Hop Sing (Victor Sen Yung), a Chinese immigrant. He was presented in the traditional subservient role reserved for minorities in the period the show was produced. He spoke with a heavy accent, wore generic Asian clothes and long, braided hair, and he always delivered words of wisdom. In several episodes the family engaged in various conflicts with outsiders to protect Hop Sing against discrimination. In doing so, the show foregrounded the racial discrimination in the historical period as well as the ongoing racial conflicts in the 1960s.

Between 12 September 1959 and 16 January 1973 a total of 440 episodes were produced. Those years witnessed several cast changes. Pernell Roberts left the series at the end of 1964-65 season calling it "Junk TV" and complaining about the glorified portrayal or wealthy ranchers. His character was eliminated from the series. Dan Blocker died before the beginning of the 1972-73 season. After his death the show's ratings started to fall, and it was canceled in 1973. A change from the traditional slot on Sunday to Tuesday evening, after 11 years in the air might also have caused the demise of the show. Even before the show was canceled it was already being rerun under the name Ponderosa by NBC on Tuesday evenings. Bonanza was exported throughout out the world, and it has been in syndication for several years in the United States. 

In the mid 1980s there was an attempt to revive the series with a made-for-television Movie entitled Bonanza: The Next Generation. None of the original cast of the series appeared in the show. Greene's death forced the producer to cast another actor. John Ireland, playing Ben Cartwright's brother, became the patriarch of Ponderosa. He could not control the ranch and it was almost taken over by miners and oil speculators. It is only when the sons of Little Joe and Hoss returned that the ranch experienced a new Bonanza.

-Antonio LaPastina

CAST

Ben Cartwright........................................ Lorne Greene

Little Joe Cartwright.............................. Michael Landon

Eric "Hoss" Cartwright (1959-1972)............... Dan Blocker

Adam Cartwright (1959-1965).................. Pernell Roberts

Hop Sing ............................................Victor Sen Yung

Sheriff Roy Caffee (1960-1972)........................ Ray Teal

Candy (1967-1970, 1972-1973)..................... David Canary

Dusty Rhoades (1970-1972)......................... Lou Frizzel

Jamie Hunter (1970-1973).......................... Mitch Vogel

Griff King (1972-1973).............................. Tim Matheson

Deputy Clem (1961-1973)............................ Bing Russell

PRODUCERS

Richard Collins, David Dortort, Robert Blees

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

440 Episodes

NBC

September 1959-September 1961   Saturday 7:30-8:30

September 1961-September 1972   Sunday 9:00-10:00

May 1972-August 1972   Tuesday 7:30-8:30

September 1972-January 1973   Tuesday 8:00-9:00

FURTHER READING

Brauer, R. and Brauer, D. The Horse, the Gun and the Piece Of Property: Changing Images of the TV Western. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1975.

Jackson, R. Classic TV Westerns. New York: Citadel, 1994.

Kirkley, D. A Descriptive Study of the Network Television Western During The Seasons 1955-56--1962-63. New York: Arno, 1979.

MacDonald, J. Fred. Who Shot the Sheriff: The Rise and Fall of the TV Western. New York: Praeger, 1987.

Highlights
David Canary on his recurring role as "Candy Canaday" on Bonanza
08:07
Ray Evans and Jay Livingston on writing the theme to Bonanza
05:33
Thomas W. Sarnoff on NBC's development of Bonanza 
04:41
David Dortort on favorite Bonanza scripts and on getting the historical aspects of the show right
03:31
David Canary on the Bonanza cast welcoming him into the show
02:27
Thomas W. Sarnoff on bringing back Bonanza in TV movies featuring the next generation - Bonanza: The Next Generation (1988), Bonanza: The Return (1993) and Bonanza: Under Attack (1995)
07:39
Who talked about this show

Howard Anderson, Jr.

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Howard Anderson Jr. on creating the opening titles for Little House on the Prairie and working on Bonanza
02:13

Bruce Bilson

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Bruce Bilson on directing a comedy episode of Bonanza "Caution, Easter Bunny Crossing" (airdate: March 29, 1970)
01:32

William Blinn

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William Blinn on storylines he wrote for Bonanza and the origin of those ideas

Haskell Boggs

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Haskell Boggs on acting as director of photography for Bonanza
01:42
Haskell Boggs on acting as director of photography on Bonanza
04:26
Haskell Boggs on his workweek on Bonanza and working with Dan Blocker who played "Hoss Cartwright" on the show
02:28
Haskell Boggs on new filming techniques that came about during the run of Bonanza
01:14
Haskell Boggs on acting as director of photography for the Bonanza episode "The Artist" and on the interior shots of the show
02:34
Haskell Boggs on learning to deal with the smaller sized television screen during his time as director of photography on Bonanza
01:45
Haskell Boggs on Bonanza shooting on location and shooting on the stages of Paramount
03:22
Haskell Boggs on working with an "alternate cinematographer" on Bonanza
02:11
Haskell Boggs on acting as director of photography for the Bonanza episode "Bushwhacked," and on the importance of a director of photography knowing the script
03:31
Haskell Boggs on dealing with the weather and daylight when working on location on Bonanza
01:49
Haskell Boggs on how cinematography techniques changed during his time on Bonanza, and moving to the Warner Bros. set
01:22
Haskell Boggs on the death of Dan Blocker who played "Hoss Cartwright" on Bonanza and the loss of Pernell Roberts as "Adam Cartwright" on the show
01:44
Haskell Boggs on Pernell Roberts as "Adam Cartwright" on Bonanza
02:41
Haskell Boggs on working with Lorne Greene as "Ben Cartwright" on Bonanza
00:57
Haskell Boggs on working with Dan Blocker as "Hoss Cartwright" on Bonanza
01:03
Haskell Boggs on working with Michael Landon as "Joe Cartwright" on Bonanza
00:37
Haskell Boggs on the technical aspects of shooting Bonanza
02:06
Haskell Boggs on the directors of Bonanza, and on what makes a good television director
07:26
Haskell Boggs on working with Michael Landon as a director on Bonanza
02:48
Haskell Boggs on acting as director of photography for Bonanza: The Return
00:52
Haskell Boggs on Bonanza being in color to sell color television sets for RCA and on moving into television
01:38
Haskell Boggs on the difference between acting as director of photography for features and acting as director of photography for Bonanza
01:41
Haskell Boggs on creating his own lighting techniques for Bonanza and on working with Michael Landon
02:51

Robert Butler

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Robert Butler on directing an episode of Bonanza, "Broken Ballad" (airdate: October 29, 1961) where the cast gave him a difficult time (Note: interviewer mistakenly calls Lorne Greene "Lorne Michaels")
04:41

David Canary

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David Canary on his recurring role as "Candy Canaday" on Bonanza
08:07
David Canary on the atmosphere on the set of Bonanza;on working with the cast
03:02
David Canary on working with Bonanza producer David Dortort
02:05
David Canary on the Bonanza cast welcoming him into the show
02:27
David Canary on specific episodes of Bonanza that he was in
10:02
David Canary on the wardrobe on Bonanza
01:58
David Canary on Bonanza coming to an end
00:54

John Conte

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John Conte on guest-starring on Bonanza
01:55

Jeanne Cooper

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Jeanne Cooper on working on Bonanza, Maverick and The Adventures of Kit Carson
03:33

David Dortort

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David Dortort on favorite episodes of The Restless Gun, on working with Dan Blocker as "Fred Burgermen," and on using the show to cast Bonanza
04:09
David Dortort on casting Pernell Roberts as "Adam Cartwright" on Bonanza
01:27
David Dortort on John Payne's contractual disputes on The Restless Gun and on the beginnings of Bonanza
06:14
David Dortort on pitching Bonanza to NBC and Tom Sarnoff helping to get it on the air and shot in color
04:49
David Dortort on writing the pilot for Bonanza
03:17
David Dortort on the casting of Bonanza
05:02
David Dortort on the lack of women in the cast of Bonanza
02:45
David Dortort on the network reaction to the pilot of Bonanza and on the directing of the pilot
01:29
David Dortort on the shooting of Bonanza
02:02
David Dortort on favorite Bonanza scripts and on getting the historical aspects of the show right
03:31
David Dortort on Jack Carson guest starring on Bonanza and dealing with historical events on the show
03:09
David Dortort on "Ben Cartwright's" (Lorne Greene) wives on Bonanza and his relationship with his family on the show
03:37
David Dortort on the popularity of Bonanza, on the effect of the show being in color, and on the sponsorship of the show by General Motors
02:54
David Dortort on nearly leaving Bonanza over a contract dispute
04:53
David Dortort on Michael Landon writing and directing for Bonanza, and Landon's relationship with Lorne Green
05:40
David Dortort on the end of Bonanza due to the death of Dan Blocker and Pernell Roberts leaving the show, and on Lee Marvin guest-starring on the show
07:51
David Dortort on friction between Pernell Roberts and the producers of Bonanza
05:16
David Dortort on Victor Sen Yung as "Hop Sing" on Bonanza
01:15
David Dortort on Lorne Greene as "Ben Cartwright" on Bonanza
04:33
David Dortort on the shooting schedule of Bonanza
02:10
David Dortort on the various guest stars of Bonanza
01:01
David Dortort on the theme song of Bonanza
02:51
David Dortort on the end of Bonanza in 1973 and on the legacy of the show
04:37
David Dortort on working on later Bonanza made-for-television movies with Ben Johnson and Lorne Greene appearing in one of them
04:08
David Dortort on creating the Bonanza prequel Ponderosa
02:52

Dorothy Fontana

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Dorothy Fontana on writing three scripts for Bonanza
01:02

Jay Livingston

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Ray Evans and Jay Livingston on writing the theme to Bonanza
05:33

Nancy Malone

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Nancy Malone on appearing on Bonanza; she was an expert horsewoman

Kent McCray

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Kent McCray on being production manager for Bonanza, and on working with creator David Dortort
04:46
Kent McCray on coming up with the idea of sharing production on Bonanza and The High Chaparral to cut costs
05:19
Kent McCray on working on post-production for Bonanza, and on the music of the show
06:04
Kent McCray on the casts of Bonanza and The High Chaparral, including Pernell Roberts who left Bonanza, Cameron Mitchell, and Lorne Greene
23:29
Kent McCray on working with Michael Landon (who loved pranks) on Bonanza
02:43
Kent McCray on the decline of the western as a television genre, and on the end of Bonanza
05:19

Ricardo Montalban

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Ricardo Montalban on his guest appearance on Bonanza episode "Day of Reckoning" (airdate: October 22, 1960) and his poor treatment by the cast
03:28

Leonard Nimoy

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Leonard Nimoy on his guest appearances on Bonanza and a television movie revival (acting with character actor Ben Johnson)
02:24

Gene Reynolds

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Gene Reynolds on casting Bonanza
01:01
Gene Reynolds on the beginning of the series Bonzana  when he was a casting director how he became a director on Hennesey
05:56

John Rich

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John Rich on directing Bonanza
00:25

Hank Rieger

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Hank Rieger on publicity for NBC's first primetime color show, Bonanza
00:43

Joseph Sargent

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Joseph Sargent on directing Bonanza
01:31

Thomas W. Sarnoff

View Interview
Thomas W. Sarnoff on NBC's development of Bonanza 
04:41
Thoma W. Sarnoff on the success of Bonanza for NBC and RCA
05:28
Thomas W. Sarnoff on bringing back Bonanza in TV movies featuring the next generation - Bonanza: The Next Generation (1988), Bonanza: The Return (1993) and Bonanza: Under Attack (1995)
07:39

Richard Shapiro

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Richard and Esther Shapiro on writing for Bonanza
01:23

Esther Shapiro

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Richard and Esther Shapiro on writing for Bonanza
01:23

Herbert F. Solow

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Herbert F. Solow on how Bonanza was shot in color
00:33

Fred Steiner

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Fred Steiner on scoring several episodes of Bonanza
00:43

Marlo Thomas

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Marlo Thomas on her guest appearance as a Chinese war bride on Bonanza  in the episode "A Pink Cloud Comes from Old Cathay" (airdate: April 12, 1964)
01:05

Richard Thomas

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Richard Thomas on appearing on Bonanza
02:05

Dawn Wells

View Interview
Dawn Wells on working on Bonanza
00:41

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