Infobox television
show_name = Bonanza

caption =
format = Western
runtime = 60 minutes
creator =
starring = Pernell Roberts
Lorne Greene
Dan Blocker
Michael Landon
Victor Sen Yung
Guy Williams
David Canary
Mitch Vogel
Ray Teal
Bing Russell
Tim Matheson
country = United States
network = NBC
distributor = Republic Pictures
Paramount Television
first_aired = 1959
last_aired = 1973
num_seasons = 14
num_episodes = 430

"Bonanza" is an American television series that ran on NBC from September 12, 1959 to January 16, 1973. Lasting 14 seasons, it is among the longest running Western television series (behind "Gunsmoke") and continues to air in syndication worldwide


"Bonanza" got its name from the Comstock Lode which was "an exceptionally large and rich mineral deposit" of silver. Virginia City was founded directly over the lode and was mined for 19 years. "Ponderosa" was an alternative title of the series, used for the broadcast of syndicated reruns while "Bonanza" was in first-run on NBC. "Ponderosa" is also the name of a series prequel airing on PAX-TV from 2001-02.

The "Bonanza" pilot, "Rose for Lotta," was written by David Dortort, who also produced the series. Dortort's other creations include "The Restless Gun," "The High Chaparral," "The Cowboys", and the "Bonanza" prequel, "Ponderosa". For most of its 430 episode run, the main sponsor of "Bonanza" was Chevrolet and the stars occasionally appeared in commercials endorsing Chevrolet automobiles. All of the regular cast members had appeared in numerous stage, television and film productions before "Bonanza," but none was particularly well-known.

In 1959, the series aired on Saturday evenings opposite, "The Perry Como Hour." "Bonanza" was one of the first series to be filmed and broadcast in color. RCA owned NBC (and the series) and wanted to use it to spur sales of color television sets. However, the Saturday night ratings were dismal and "Bonanza" was soon targeted for cancellation. Given one last chance, it was moved to Sunday nights at 9:00 PM. The new time slot caused the series to soar, and it eventually reached number one by the mid-'60s; by 1970, it had become the first series to ever wind up in the Top Five for nine consecutive seasons (a record which would stand for decades) and thus established itself as the single biggest hit TV series of the 1960s; it remained high on the Nielsen ratings until 1971, when it finally fell out of the top ten.

The opening burning map of the Ponderosa Ranch was illustrated with incorrect bearings. David Dortort, choosing not to redo the map, altered the compass points. The original painting was done by artist [ Robert Temple Ayres] .


The show chronicled the weekly adventures of the Cartwright family, headed by wise, thrice-widowed patriarch Ben Cartwright (played by Lorne Greene). He had three sons, each by a different wife: the oldest was the urbane architect Adam Cartwright (played by Pernell Roberts) who built the ranch house; the second was the warm and lovable giant Eric, better known by his nickname: "Hoss" (played by Dan Blocker); and the youngest was the hotheaded and impetuous Joseph or "Little Joe" (played by Michael Landon). The family's cook was the Chinese immigrant Hop Sing (played by Victor Sen Yung). "Bonanza" was considered an atypical western for its time, as the core of the storylines dealt with Ben and his three dissimilar sons, how they cared for one another, their neighbors and their land.

The family lived on a thousand-square-mile ranch called "The Ponderosa," on the shore of Lake Tahoe in Nevada; the 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). Greene, Roberts, Blocker, and Landon were equal stars. The opening credits would rotate the order among the four stars. As the series advanced, writers began to showcase one or two Cartwrights in each episode, while the others would be seen briefly in the prologue and epilogue. Not only did this provide for more thorough character development, it also gave all four actors more free time.

Originally, the Cartwrights tended to be depicted as put-off by outsiders. Lorne Greene pointed out to the producers that as one of the region's most affluent timber and livestock producers, they had better moderate their clannishness. The producers agreed with this observation and changed the Cartwrights to be more amiable.

Early in the show's history, the thrice widowed Ben Cartwright, recalls each wife in flashback episodes. A recurring situation (which also occurs in the TV western "The Big Valley"), was that every time one of the Cartwrights became seriously involved with a woman, she died from a malady, was slain, or left with someone else. As with all hit programs, disturbing a successful formula could be a major blunder.

The Cast

s in character as Ben Cartwright, scoring a #1 hit with his dramatic spoken word performance of "Ringo." He also recorded a version of the "Bonanza" theme.

Georgia-born Pernell Roberts was a familiar face at television studio lots in the late 1950s according to producer David Dortort, who saw him in a "Gunsmoke" episode. The young actor won a prestigious Drama Desk award in 1955 for his performance in an off-Broadway rendition of "MacBeth." Roberts had long disdained the medium's commercialization of his craft for its mass production, assembly-line mindset. In 1964 he told Look magazine's John Poppy, "I just get on and ask somebody for the lines and say them. They have to turn-out 34 a season, one every six days." But the B-movie quality of the scripts were what the actor loathed most, "the plots, the godawful plots. They take a plot and write it six different ways for six different Sundays. One week it's lawyers night, next week it's ranchers night. You change protagonist, but it's the same old plot. And the writing-GAD!" An accomplished singer as well as stage actor, he recorded an album of folk ballads entitled "Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies." He left the series in February 1965 after disagreements with writers and producer David Dortort. According to the July 2005 "Bonanza Gold" issue, David Dortort said his intent was to have a married Adam appear less frequently, thus making him a semi-regular. It was a move to broker with Roberts, who vowed not to renew his contract. Attempts to replace him were made by introducing Ben's stepson, Clay, (played briefly by Barry Coe) and Will, a nephew (played by "Zorro" star Guy Williams), but neither lasted. Two of the remaining stars felt that storylines which created new Cartwrights could potentially defeat their own contract negotiations, so Williams' Will Cartright wound up leaving the series with Adam's fiancèe. Williams moved on to "Lost in Space" and never revived the Will role.

Three hundred pound Dan Blocker, played the gentle middle son Eric, AKA "Hoss." Born in Texas, he was a teacher before becoming Hoss. The character had a warm heart and a penchant for lost causes. The Hoss character was originally conceived as "lovable but slow-witted". Blocker, however, was the only cast member with an advanced degree, a Masters in Dramatic Arts. In 1968, Blocker began wearing a toupee on the series as he was approaching forty and losing hair. He joined the ranks of his fellow co-stars Pernell Roberts and Lorne Greene, both of whom began the series with hairpieces (Greene wore his modest frontal piece in private life too, whereas Roberts preferred not wearing his, even to rehearsals/blocking). Michael Landon was the only original cast member to be wig-free throughout the series, as even Victor Sen Yung's Hop Sing wore an attached queue (pony tail).

It was young Michael Landon who received most of the fan mail, and was seen in female oriented teen magazines. In addition to acting, Landon began to develop his skills in writing and directing "Bonanza" episodes, starting with "The Gamble." Some of the shows Landon directed are considered to be the most moving including, "The Wish," "He Was Only Seven," and "Forever." According to David Dortort, Landon himself grew difficult during the last five seasons the show ran, "Nearly every line, every scene, every set up... everything would halt for endless story conferences on the set... it got increasingly bitter toward the end." In a 1992 memorial retrospective directed by the star's son Michael Jr., "Michael Landon: Memories with Laughter and Love," cast member David Canary said that the one word that most described Landon to him was, "fearless."

In 1967, David Canary joined the cast as "Candy" Canaday, a plucky army-brat turned cowboy, who became the Cartwrights' confidant, ranch foreman and timber vessel captain. The character vanished in 1970 after Canary himself had a contract dispute with Dortort. He would later return.

In 1970, 14-year-old Mitch Vogel joined the series as Jamie Hunter, the orphaned son of a rainmaker. Ben adopted Jamie in a 1971 episode. During this character's run on the show, "Bonanza" ratings fell greatly.

In 1972, Dan Blocker suddenly died from a post-op blood-clot to the lungs. The show's producers chose to simply mention the character's death in passing (TV producer Sheldon Leonard was the first to "kill-off" major characters, starting in 1956 with "Make Room For Daddy" and in 1963 with "The Real McCoys," wherein the female leads of each show chose not to renew their contracts). "Bonanza" was moved to Tuesday nights against a new CBS sitcom, "Maude." Both events signaled the end of the program. Canary returned to his former role of Candy (to make up for Blocker's absence), and a new character named Griff King (played by Tim Matheson) was added to lure younger viewers. Griff, accused of killing his heavy-handed stepfather, was paroled into Ben's custody and got a job as a ranch hand. Several episodes were built around his character, one Matheson never had a chance to fully develop before the show's sudden demise in January 1973. Many fans felt that the Hoss character was essential, as he was a nurturing, empathetic soul who rounded-out the all-male cast.

From the third season on, the Cartwrights and nearly every other recurring character on the show wore the same clothing in almost every episode. This was done to cut the cost of refilming action shots (such as riding clips in-between scenes), as previously-shot stock footage could be reused.

*Ben Cartwright: Taupe shirt, Brown leather vest, gray pants, creme colored hat, occasional green scarf
*Adam Cartwright: Black Shirt, Black or dark blue pants, black hat. Ellegant city wear. Cream-colored trail coat.
*Hoss Cartwright: White shirt, brown suede vest, brown pants, distinctive 10-gallon hat.
*Little Joe Cartwright: cream, gray or white shirt, green corduroy jacket, tan pants, tan hat. Black leather gloves from 10th season on.
*Candy Canaday: Crimson shirt, black pants, black leather vest and hat, green/grey scarf.


After cancellation

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), and the Hallmark Channel. In the UK, the show is aired on the Bonanza channel on skyTV.

Following the program's cancellation:
*Lorne Greene did three short-lived series "Griff," "Battlestar Galactica" and "Code Red," as well as narrating a wild life series and a starring role as the first slave owner of Kunta Kinte in the mini-series "Roots". Lorne Greene suffered from prostate cancer and eventually died from pneumonia in 1987, a few weeks after signing to appear in "."
*Michael Landon became an industry "mover" as actor, writer, director and producer of two successful series, "Little House on the Prairie" and "Highway to Heaven." Landon died from pancreatic cancer in 1991.
*David Canary, who started in "Peyton Place," went back to the soap genre and (to date) has won five Emmy Awards for his dual portrayal of twins Adam and Stuart Chandler on "All My Children."
*Pernell Roberts, the lone survivor of the original cast, found renewed fame from 1979-86 with "Trapper John, M.D.," and later narrated "" from 1991-93.
*Victor Sen Yung died in November 1980 under initially "mysterious circumstances" in his modest San Fernando Valley bungalow. Following an investigation it was determined that Victor was accidentally asphyxiated in his sleep after turning on a faulty kitchen stove for heat. The actor's achievements were greatly overlooked. On a "To Tell the Truth" episode in 1975, no one on the panel identified him as the actor who contributed to the Charlie Chan films, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Flower Drum Song," and the 14-year run of "Bonanza." Pernell Roberts, a champion for minority rights, did the eulogy at Yung's funeral. With few available roles for Asian actors at the time, Yung had been selling cookware.

TV Movies

"Bonanza" was brought back for three made-for-TV movies featuring the Cartwrights' offspring: ' (1988), ' (1993) and "" (1995). Michael Landon, Jr., played Little Joe's son Benji while Gillian Greene, Lorne'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 "TV Guide," NBC told Blocker he was too old to play the Hoss scion, but was given the role of an unrelated newspaper reporter. Clips of his appearance were heavily used in advertisements promoting the "second generation" theme. Hoss' son Josh was born out-of-wedlock, as it is explained that Hoss drowned without knowing his fiancee was pregnant. Such a storyline could 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 Matt Dillon learned he sired Michael Learned's daughter via a short-lived romance. The initial story was first introduced in 1973, when dipiction of fornication courted protests, so CBS insisted their hero Matt have the encounter when he had amnesia).

The Prequel

In 2001, there was an attempt to revive the series' concept with a prequel, "Ponderosa," with a pilot directed by Kevin James Dobson and filmed in Australia. Covering the time when the Cartwrights first arrived at the Ponderosa, it lasted 20 episodes. The prequel had less gunfire and brawling than the original. Bonanza creator David Dortort approved PAX TV's decision to hire Beth Sullivan, a producer from "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," which some believe gave the series a softer edge.

Theme Song

"Bonanza" also featured a memorable theme song by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans that is often parodied. Lorne Greene and the cast recorded versions of the song with lyrics.

The "Bonanza" theme is one of the best known pieces of made-for-television music, and variations of it were used for twelve seasons of the series. In 1968, a new percussion-heavy arrangement of the original theme was introduced; the new version 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. A faster rendition of the original theme returned for the 14th and final season.

The theme song has been recorded by numerous artists in a diverse variety of styles. Well known American country singer Johnny Cash recorded a version of the theme song, released on his sixteenth album: "." Singer Ralf Paulsen recorded a German-language version of the song, in 1963. Michael Feinstein last recorded the song in 2002 on his, "Songs of Evans and Livingston" tribute CD. Bad Manners did a ska version of the song. Michael Richards, as Stanley Spadowski, sang a bit of the theme song while being held hostage by Channel 8's news goons in "UHF."

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 first Virginia City set was used on the show until 1970, and was located on a backlot at Paramount and turned up in episodes of "Have Gun, Will Travel," "Mannix" and "The Brady Bunch." On a 1970 "Bonanza" episode entitled "The Night Virginia City Died," Deputy Clem Foster's pyromaniac fiancee leveled the town in a series of fires. This allowed for a switch to the lesser expensive Warner studios from September 1970 through January 1973.

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


Currently, Bonanza Ventures, Inc. grants merchandising and licensing rights worldwide. The original series spawned successful novelty folk albums from 1962-65, a chain of Bonanza and Ponderosa steakhouses from 1963-present, the Lake Tahoe-based "Ponderosa" theme park from 1967-2004; a line of action figures, lunch buckets and View Master sets from 1965-1973.

"Bonanza Gold," a current quarterly magazine, features detailed information about the show, including interviews with actors and other production personnel, articles about historical events and people depicted in the series, fan club information and fan fiction.

Bonanza on VHS and DVD

A handful of episodes of the series are in the public domain, and some TV showings of these episodes on low-budget stations and networks (and also on low-budget public domain DVDs and VHS tapes) substitute the familiar theme music for generic music.

In 1973, NBC licensed the syndication rights to the series to National Telefilm Associates, which changed its name to Republic Pictures in the 1980s (by then part of the Spelling Entertainment organization). Select episodes ("The Best of Bonanza") were officially released in North America in 2003 on DVD via then-Republic video licensee Artisan Entertainment (which was later purchased by Lionsgate Home Entertainment). Republic still retains the syndication distribution rights to the series, and lately the series is distributed world-wide via CBS Paramount Television, which owns the Republic Library. DVD distribution details are currently under on-going negotiation, but CBS DVD is now the home video rights holder.

ee also

*Ponderosa Ranch
*1959 in television


External links

*imdb title|id=0052451|title=Bonanza
* [ "Bonanza" on]
* [ "Bonanza" at the Encyclopedia of Television]
* [ "Bonanza" at]
* [ "Bonanza" at]

Fan Sites

* [ Bonanaza World] , lots of info and photos in a pleasant interface.
* [ Bonanza Brand] , fan website with character/actor forums, FanFic Library, and more.
* [ Bonanza Legacy] , one of several fan websites sanctioned by Bonanza Ventures, Inc. and affiliated with the official magazine "Bonanza Gold"
* [ "Bonanza": Scenery of The Ponderosa] , another fan website.
* [ Vote "Bonanza" into the TV Hall of Fame]
* [ BonanzaBoomers Photos, Trivia, FanFicFun, Games and much much more.]

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