1 9 5 9 – 1 9 7 3 (USA)
430 x 30 minute episodes
The first colour TV western, Bonanza followed the adventures of the Cartwright clan, owners of the 1,000 square mile timber ranch, The Ponderosa, near Virginia City, Nevada, during the 1860s.
The family patriarch of the all-male Cartwright clan was thrice-widowed Ben Cartwright, who worked his property with his three grown sons: shrewd, steely Adam (Pernell Roberts), big-hearted brute Hoss (Dan Blocker), and hotheaded dandy Little Joe (Michael Landon).
Each of his sons had been born by a different woman, none of them still living. Adam, the oldest of the half-brothers, was the most serious and introspective, the likely successor to his father as the controlling force behind the sprawling Cartwright estate.
Hoss, the middle son, was a mountainous man who was as gentle as he was huge and ‘ornery. At times he could be incredibly naive and was not particularly bright. Little Joe was the youngest, most impulsive and most romantic of the three Cartwright brothers.
Bonanza was more than just another Western in an age that had an abundance of them – it was a clever marketing idea.
First aired in 1959, the series was specially developed to be filmed and viewed in colour and was supposed to make Americans buy colour televisions.
It apparently worked, as the colour TV became rather popular and the series lasted for fourteen years. Plots generally centred around the ranch and the folk who visited.
The final episode was both written and directed by Michael Landon who then went on to torture us throughout the remainder of the seventies with his tale of Christian cowboy morality, Little House on the Prairie.
There were several cast changes over the years. Pernell Roberts left the show at the end of the 1965 season and his role was written out of the series.
At the start of the 1967 season, a wanderer named Candy was hired as a ranch hand for the Cartwright’s and became one of the family.
Three years later two other new cast members arrived to help out on the Ponderosa. Dusty Rhoades was a friend of Ben’s, and Jamie Hunter was an orphaned teenaged son of a rainmaker who had been killed.
When Dan Blocker died in 1972 at the age of 43 from surgical complications, many felt the heart and soul of the show went with him.
After Blocker passed away even the show’s leads knew it would be difficult to continue. But the show also dropped in the ratings after NBC moved it from its longtime Sunday-night berth to Tuesday night.
Next to Gunsmoke, it was the longest-running Western on TV and for much of that time, it turned in phenomenal ratings.
The Bonanza format was later repeated in shows such as The Big Valley and The High Chaparral.
In 1988, a made-for-TV film, Bonanza: The Next Generation was produced. None of the original cast appeared in the production, but Michael Landon’s son, Michael Landon Jr, and Dan Blocker’s son, Dirk Blocker, were featured in the cast.
Two subsequent Bonanza made-for-TV movies were made but had little – if any – residual results. A Bonanza-based prequel series called The Ponderosa appeared on US cable in 2001.
Little Joe Cartwright
Eric “Hoss” Cartwright
Victor Sen Yung
Sheriff Roy Coffee