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  • This was probably one of the more influential western series of all time. Along with "Gunsmoke" this also was one of the longest running series in the history of television. The thing that made it great though was that it was able to get better over time. For example, in many of the early episodes, Ben and his sons had an almost antagonistic relationship with anyone who came on their property. In fact, the Cartwrights had an almost shoot first, ask questions later attitude to any stranger that might wander onto the Ponderosa. However, when Lorne Greene suggested that the Cartwrights become more hospitable, that's when the show began to take off. Also, the Adam, Hoss and Joe weren't on the best of terms with each other during the show's early days, but as time went on the three of them grew closer and showed their affection towards each other, especially Hoss and Little Joe. But the thing that really made it great was the fact that the cast and crew were able to go from serious drama to some very light hearted episodes and make it more than just a western but a family drama with stories that could easily fit into any era. This is really a show for the ages.
  • This series is great for many things. The Cartwrights are righteous, hard working and well respected. They work from early in the morning until they sit down for dinner, eating meat and potatoes. Dan Blocker was Texas heaviest baby when he was born, and Little Joe (Michael Landon) always comments on how much he eats for dinner. Pernell Roberts is very cool as Adam, and Lorne Greene, playing Ben Cartwright depicts a very noble and respectable man. Under the scorching sun they meet problems like racism, indians and every other problem you could expect those days. Great entertainment. A TV-series like this will never be made again.
  • Feature film makers have many lessons to learn from this classic western serial. Although each episode was made on a small budget when compared to the Hollywood "A" features of today, all of the production values of great classic movies of the golden age -- painterly composition and design, emotionally effective acting, lyrical music, suspenseful storytelling, beautiful timing, strong dramatic dialogue, elegantly choreographed action, powerful themes, colorful period costumes, folksy comic relief -- all of these values were at a consistently high level from show to show, with never an awkward effect or a misfit scene. Each of the featured characters was drawn in a unique and stylish way, suggesting the storybook characterization that distinguishes the best of the Hollywood golden age. Every one of the episodes stands well as a feature length movie in its own right and would look as good on the big screen as on TV. There's plenty of feeling, no padding or softness, and no mindless experimentation with technique or vulgarity such as has ruined so many westerns made since 1970.

    It's difficult to understand why an approach which succeeded for so long was abandoned in the 1970's by both television and feature film makers. Many producers turned instead in the direction indicated by spaghetti westerns. Compared to classic westerns like "Bonanza," spaghetti westerns were much less lyrical and took more of a gutter eye view of the old west, stripping it of its romantic appeal and substituting what to a misguided new generation seemed a dirtier and therefore more authentic realism. In retrospect, Hollywood gave up way too much for the little that it got in return. The success of a vast body of works similar in appeal to "Bonanza" (including many of the other action adventure TV serials made from the '40s to the '60s) is proof that there is a widespread taste that is radically different from the one which has predominated in Hollywood since the '70s. Let's hope that one day we'll see the return of Bonanza's classic values to the screen.
  • It got to be a running joke around Bonanza about how fatal it was for any women to get involved with any Cartwright men. After all Ben Cartwright was three times a widower with a son by each marriage. And any woman who got involved with Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe were going to end up dying because we couldn't get rid of the formula of the widower and the three sons that started this classic TV western.

    Perhaps if Bonanza were being done today the writers would have had revolving women characters who came in and out of the lives of the Cartwrights. People have relationships, some go good, some not so good, it's just life. And we're less demanding of our heroes today so if a relationship with one of them goes south we don't have to kill the character off to keep the survivor's nobility intact. But that's if Bonanza were done today.

    But we were still expecting a lot from our western heroes and Bonanza though it took a while to take hold and a change of viewing time from NBC certainly helped, the secret of Bonanza's success was the noble patriarch Ben Cartwright and his stalwart sons. Ben Cartwright was THE ideal TV Dad in any genre you want to name. His whole life was spent in the hard work of building that immense Ponderosa spread for his three children. The kids were all different in personality, but all came together in a pinch.

    The Cartwrights became and still are an American institution. I daresay more people cared about this family than the Kennedys. Just the popularity that Bonanza has in syndication testifies to that.

    Pernell Roberts as oldest son Adam was written out of the show. Rumor has it he didn't care for the noble Cartwright characters which he felt bordered on sanctimonious. Perhaps if it were done now, he'd have liked it better in the way I describe.

    This was just the beginning for Michael Landon, how many people get three hit TV shows to their credit. Landon also has Highway to Heaven and Little House On the Prarie where he had creative control. Little Joe was the youngest, most hot headed, but the most romantic of the Cartwrights.

    When Roberts left. the show kept going with the two younger sons, but when big Dan Blocker left, the heart went out of Bonanza. Other characters had been added on by that time, David Canary, Tim Matheson, and Ben Cartwright adopted young Mitch Vogel. But big, loyal, but a little thick Hoss was easily the most lovable of the Cartwrights. His sudden demise after surgery left too big a hole in that family.

    So the Cartwrights of the Ponderosa have passed into history. I got a real taste of how America took the Cartwrights to heart when I visited the real Virginia City. It doesn't look anything like what you see in Bonanza. But near Lake Tahoe, just about where you see the Ponderosa on the map at the opening credits, is the Cartwright home, the set maintained and open as a tourist attraction. Like 21 Baker Street for Sherlock Holmes fans, the ranchhouse and the Cartwrights are real.

    And if they weren't real, they should have been.
  • "Bonanza" was the first hour-long TV show in any genre produced in full-color. The continuing cast for the first 6 years featured essentially five persons--Benjamin Cartwright, his three sons and their Chinese cook, along with the local sheriff. Cartwright had been a seaman, who went west and married three times; each time he produced a son and lost his wife. Reaching the ponderosa pine country near Virginia City, Nevada and Lake Tahoe, he built up a large landholding, with cattle, timber, and mines, becoming an important man in the territory. Ben Cartwright was played by Canadian announcer-actor Lorne Greene, who was much younger than the part he played but had Shakespearean training and a powerful speaking voice. Pernell Roberts played his eldest son, Adam, a thoughtful but restless man, 1959-65. Eric "Hoss" Cartwright was portrayed huge Dan Blocker as a man of gentle ways and grit but ordinary intelligence. Attractive Michael Landon played "Little Joe", fast with a gun and learning to be a man; he also write and directed episodes for the series. Victor Sen-Young was Hop Sing, and veteran Ray Teal played Sheriff Roy Coffee. Later, others were added to the series for various stretches, once Adam's part was written out; these included David Canaray as Candy, Bing Russell, Harry Holcombe, Guy Williams, Kathie Browne, and Remo Pisani. Each week guest stars were hired, and a few actors were used in dozens of shows. Among the most memorable guest stars were John Larkin, Ruta Lee, Joan Hackett, Frank Overton, Bruce Yarnall, Inga Swenson as Inger, Ben's second wife, Felicia Farr as his third wife, Grandon Rhodes, Patricia Donahue, Robert Lansing, Lisa Lu and Steve Forrest. Titles such as "The Honor of Cochise", "The Eden Train", "Inger, My Love I,II", "Right is the Fourth "R"", and "The Mountain Girl" among many others bring fond memories. Many directors toiled on "Bonanza", whose title referred to the rich ore found in the Virginia City area during the nineteenth century. The list included Lewis Allen, Leon Benson, William F. Claxton, Herschel Daugherty, Don McDougall, Christian Nyby, Leo Penn and William Witney. Principal writers for the series, with 5 or more credits, included Robert V. Barron, Frank Chase, Suzanne Clauser, Frank Cleaver, the producer David Dortort, Warren Douglas, John Hawkins, Ward Hawkins, Arther Heinemann, Michael Landon, Jo Pagano, Stanley Roberts, Robert Sabaroff, Jack B. Sowards, Thomas Thompson and Al C. Ward. It is difficult to characterize the show except that it was a consistently second-rank attempt to do stories about first-rate ethical people living in an interesting era in a frontier setting. It was the first of the family-oriented westerns, and at the same time a show capable of detaching its principals for dual or independent adventures. If few of its episodes risk to great dramatic heights, many are far-above-average film-making efforts, even by feature-film standards. The production featured clean, straightforward cinematography, Nellie Manley's hairstyles, Wally Westmore's makeup, enjoyable costumes and expert sets, art direction and action scenes. If the family spent too much time at home, seldom were shown with cattle and had virtually no employees, the writers made up for such derelictions by involving the sons and the father in the affairs of town and territory. Innovatve and perhaps inimitable, this was quality dramatic western making from start to finish.
  • "Bonanza" aired on NBC in September of 1959. Filmed in color, it was put in the 7:30 PM slot on Saturday nights so that people in the appliance stores could see it on the television sets and be convinced to buy an RCA color television. The ploy worked.

    In 1961 it was moved to Sunday nights after NBC realized they had a hit on their hands. It lasted another 13 or so years before being canceled. But it is a landmark in television history.

    One suggestion - if you ever find a DVD of "Bonanza" and an episode titled "To Die in Darkness" is listed, don't hesitate to buy the DVD. The episode guest-starred James Whitmore and was filmed in about the mid-1960s. All I will say is that the episode was probably the best of the series.
  • 1. The series produced an astounding 431 episodes-all filmed in full color. "Bonanza" became the second longest-running western in television history right next to "Gunsmoke" which lasted more than 20 years on the air.

    2. Ran for 14 years on NBC-TV from September 12,1959 until the final episode on January 16,1973. Executive Producer and Creator of this series was David Dortort. Episode 1:"A Rose For Lotta"(Airdate:9-12-59). Episode 431:"The Hunter"(Airdate:1-16-1973,the final episode of the series).

    3. It was schedule during seasons 1-2 on Saturday nights from September 12,1959 until June 3,1961.

    The show moved to Sunday nights during seasons 3-13 from September 24,1961 until April 11,1971. It was here between 1961-1967,that the show was within the top ten of the Nielsens.

    The show moved to Wednesday nights for its last two seasons 13-14 from September 19,1971 until the final episode of the series on January 16,1973.

    4. Only actors Lorne Greene,Michael Landon,Dan Blocker,Ray Teal and Victor Sen-Yung remained throughout the show's astounding 14-year run. Pernell Roberts remained with the show during seasons 1-6 with Roberts' last episode of the series "Patchwork Man"(Episode No. 202)which aired May 23,1965.

    *David Canary played "Candy Canaday"(Seasons 9-11 and 14)[1967-1973],

    *Mitch Vogel played Jamie Hunter Cartwright(Seasons 12-14)[1970-1973],

    *Tim Matheson played hired hand Griff King(Seasons 13-14)[1971-1973],

    *Lou Frizzell played hired hand Dusty Rhodes (Seasons 12-13)[1970-1972],

    The original episodes:Seasons 1-6 from 1959-1965. The lost episodes Seasons 7-14 from 1965-1973.
  • I grew up on this classic western series, and as a child always considered it a treat being allowed to stay up late on Sunday evenings to watch it. Bonanza is still infinitely re watchable in re runs.

    The series chronicles the adventures of the Cartwright family, who live on a ranch near Virginia City, Nevada around the Civil War era. Their ranch (called the Ponderosa) is run and defended by the widowed father, Ben, and his unmarried three sons, Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe. These three brothers have different mothers, all of whom have passed away years earlier.

    The Cartwrights are a hard working, prosperous, and honourable family, highly respected in those parts. The Ponderosa is large so reaching its extremities requires a lot of horseback riding. Also, trips away are often necessary in order to buy or sell cattle and so forth. Needless to say, few of these excursions pass uneventfully. Although hospitable, much of the Cartwrights' energy must be spent defending their ranch from interlopers, or protecting themselves from townsfolk jealous of their prosperity and stellar reputation. The Cartwrights do a fair bit of firing their guns up in the air and such, but only shoot to kill when deemed absolutely necessary. They are involved in various town affairs, even the political life of the Nevada territory.

    One of the main assets of the series is the underlying warmth that is always present (despite occasional disagreements) between Ben and his three sons, and (despite frequent disagreements) between the three brothers. Now, one brother might beat up another every now and then, but generally has a good reason for it at the time and his anger never lasts long! The characters are all very well drawn. Ben is portrayed as a successful and noble man of great integrity. The oldest son, Adam, the most rational and suave of the brothers, left midway through the series. The middle brother, Hoss, is a gentle giant of a teddy bear, who has an insatiable appetite for food and is a little shy around the ladies. The youngest, Little Joe, is a hot headed, handsome charmer who, by contrast, has quite a way with women. This trio of brothers enjoy various romances but their love interests are typically killed off by the end of the episode or else marriage proves impossible, for whatever reason.

    The actors are all stellar in their roles, including Pernell Roberts (Adam), Dan Blocker (Hoss), Michael Landon (Little Joe), and of course Lorne Greene as the principled family patriarch, Ben. I also love the ranch cook, Hop Sing, played by Victor Sen Yung.

    This is a wonderful action packed western with great values. The Cartwrights are always the noble heroes and most of the bad guys quite villainous. If only there were more programs like this vintage western on TV these days!
  • As a child growing up,I can recall seeing every episode at least a dozen number of times and can fondly recognize all the characters on the show. "Bonanza" was that show. For the 14 years that it ran on NBC,it has become television's second longest running western series,and the only TV show that was presented in "living color" throughout its run. The show was the equilavent of My Three Sons,with the exception that it was in the rolling hills of Nevada during the turn of the 1800's. Only during its run that Lorne Greene and Michael Landon were the original two cast members that stayed on the series in which Landon produced and directed several of the episodes. Only two other members left the show at the peak of their fame when it was in the top ten for the duration of the show(which was #1 in the Nielsen ratings during much of the 1960's). Pernell Roberts,who played big brother Adam left in 1965,and Dan Blocker who played the mighty Hoss left in 1972 due to health problems. Repeats of the series can be seen on PAX-TV along with the lost episodes that date back to the early 1970's. A Must See!
  • rhklwk-124 February 2010
    My comment is limited generally to the first season, 1959-60.

    This superb series was one of the first to be televised in color, and it was highly influential in persuading Americans that they had to buy a color television set, which was about $800 in 1959, the equivalent of more than $3,000 today. How many of us would pay that much for the privilege of watching a show transmitted by a cathode ray picture tube on a 17-inch screen? I was eleven when the series began, and I watched it from the beginning.

    Watching it now, 50 years later, several things come to mind. First, many of the story lines involve the Comstock Lode and the heyday of silver mining, which dates to 1859. For 1859, the weapons and clothes are, for the most part, not authentic. (The haircuts are left out of the discussion.) That's basically a nitpick.

    And, it would have been impossible for Ben to have arrived in the Lake Tahoe area in 1839 and to have amassed a 100-square mile ranch in the next twenty years. Pioneers were still trying to solve the Sierra Nevada problem as late as 1847, and the Gold Rush did not even begin until two years later.

    Indians are not played by Native American actors. John Ford was using Native American actors in the 1920s. The Bonanza producers could have easily done so thirty years later. That is a major nitpick for me.

    There are other time-line problems. In Season 1, Mark Twain appears, and he is depicted as a middle-aged man. Mark Twain was 24 years-old in 1859. The stories also vacillate between 1859-1860 (pre-Civil War) and what was more suitable for an 1880 time-frame. There are continuity problems, over and over.

    It is somewhat off-putting, too, that there is so much killing in the first season. In time, the killing was reduced.

    Many of the episodes take a socially liberal slant, which would be hard to believe, given the time-line, but give the writers credit for anticipating the seismic shifts in the Nation's attitudes beginning in the 1960s.

    Having said all that, the acting is good, and I have come to conclude in my latter years that Adam's character was drawn better than any other's. I don't think Pernell Roberts ever got the credit he deserved. Also, Season 1 reinforces the fact that Dan Blocker (Hoss) was a good actor.

    Many of the stories trace real historical events. The guest stars were interesting.

    This was great family entertainment, and the series stands up very well by any measure.
  • When I was born, this television series was the number one show on T.V.!! America epitomized the feat of the ultimate fatted calf country with big ambitions, limitless potential, and a very comfortable economy!! After a big Sunday dinner, why not sit back and watch "Bonanza", IN COLOR!!! This homey western evokes an American tradition which accompanies the complacency of the typical U.S. household during the era in which it was viewed.. The breathtaking cinematography of Lake Tahoe symbolized an infinite prosperity of the emerging American culture!! Western Movies were so popular that Western Television Shows followed suit!! This was a period in time in our country which yearned for a concise reflection on our own country's struggle for survival!! The end result of the trials and tribulations at the Ponderosa Ranch, as demonstrated in this series, sparked a realization that Americans are now auspiciously enjoying the fruits of the Cartwright's painstaking labor!!

    The T.V. Show "Bonanza" was popular for so many different reasons, mostly on account of the fact that the late fifties and early sixties had not yet established the divisiveness of two different cultural mindsets which was ready to surface with our nation! The unification of ideologies in the United States which prevailed during the debut of "Bonanza" was a big reason for the show's success!! In the show's later years, "Bonanza" had established a firmly entrenched core market television audience!! The cast to "Bonanza" became famous, and the wholesome entertainment of "Bonanza" encompassed a camaraderie for the All-American idealist!! Everybody liked "Bonanza" and a lot of Americans totally loved it!! Reflecting on rough and tumble family values is a favorite past time of many Americans, and the television show "Bonanza" was perfect for that frame of mind!! I liked the show a lot, and most people I know like it as well!! Certainly, my entire family loved "Bonanza"!! This show was one of the all time American classics in the history of television!!
  • Bonanza explores the adventures of the Cartwright family consisting of three-time widower Ben Cartwright and his three sons Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe. Ben is a self-made man who has carved out a piece of Nevada - a large piece - as a prosperous ranch. Each of Ben's sons has a different mother and a very different background. Adam's mother is from New England, Hoss' mother had Scandinavian roots and met Ben out on the Great plains when Ben and Adam were on the way west after Ben's first wife died. Little Joe's mother was a southerner from New Orleans. This difference in roots is explored even in the first season when Little Joe almost joins the Confederate army after having someone come into town and stir up his feelings for his southern roots. However, the full story doesn't come out until later. There is one episode each in seasons two, three, and four that are dedicated to telling the story of each of Ben's wives.

    This first season follows the successful road map that all of the seasons did. Many have a guest star that is recognized even today. For example, Yvonne De Carlo is the guest star in the very first episode. Alan Hale Jr. (The Skipper of Gilligan's Island) also makes the first of several guest appearances he will make over the years during the first season.

    Most episodes involve heavy-hitting drama often involving some injustice which the Cartwrights, with their prominent place in the community, are in a place to right. The show often used the fact that it was set in the old west to explore some of the social issues of the 1960's without stirring present-day controversy. However, there are a few almost completely comedic episodes here and there. The odd thing is, nobody did comedy as well as Bonanza did when Bonanza decided to do comedy, and usually Hoss is at the center of it all.

    The show never really produces a long story arc. Each episode pretty much stands alone. The show really had only two disruptions. The first, which didn't prove fatal to the show, was when Pernell Roberts left in the late 1960's. His "place" was taken by Candy. Candy was not another son - he was a hired hand, but he was also a trusted friend of the Cartwrights.

    The second disruption probably was fatal by most accounts. Dan Blocker, who played Hoss, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1972. The show only lasted one more season before it was canceled. Blocker's character of Hoss wasn't the most handsome of the Cartwrights in the conventional sense, but he was the heart and very much the sense of humor of the show. His loss was irreplaceable.
  • Although this show has been off the air since 1973, after viewing a DVD set I borrowed at our library, I felt compelled to say a bit about it.

    I can remember when it was the only color show on television in the 1960s, and sometimes there would be a little "Sunday Night Party" with friends to watch this on NBC on one of the few color televisions.

    I really enjoy history not so much for the names and dates but how it influences us today and how so much can be so profound based on the most inconsequential actions of the time. Case in point: Virginia City, Nevada, which became one of the richest cities in the world because of the silver, got its name from a character named "Old Virginny", who, in the town's early days, stumbled out of a saloon, fell and broke his whiskey bottle.

    Old Virginny didn't want to waste the occasion so as the precious liquid was seeping into the dirt he decided to christen the town "Virginia Town". The area became known as the Comstock Lode because another character, Henry Comstock, had the reputation of trying to jump everyone's claim and the area became known as the Comstock Lode.

    I just watched an early episode that dealt with these 2 subjects. Other episodes dealt with Mark Twain's literary rise while a reporter for the Territorial Enterprise...

    It was wholesome (and frequently educational) family entertainment. As someone else remarked, each episode would really be considered a movie in its own right - rich scripts and characters.

    One thing it twisted the truth on was the proximity to Virginia City and the Ponderosa. In truth, to ride from the Ponderosa (all of Northern Lake Tahoe), one would have to ride his horse about 3,000 feet (1,000 meters) down the Spooner Summit to the high desert (3,000-4,000 feet) of the Carson Valley then another 30-40 miles to Virginia city.

    Needless to say the Cartwrights would have some sore rear ends doing this on a regular basis. But every writer should have some leeway with the truth.

    How I miss that show, even today.
  • Forty-four years later, I still recall the first line of the first episode of Bonanza. The 14-season debut opened with Ben Cartwright and Adam--just the two of them--riding up to a ridge overlooking the vast expansive glory of the Ponderosa. Horses stopped, Ben turns to his eldest son, stretches forth his hand, and issues "Pa's" first command ... "Look at it, Adam!"

    Adam looked. For about 14 seconds.

    And so did this young viewer.

    It would require, however, another 14 years of "looking" before a 14-year-old boy would come to fully comprehend the treasure Adam beheld in the single moment he, and we, first laid eyes on that majestic, resplendent land of the Cartwright Bonanza.
  • I am currently 55 and my twin sons are 14 at the time this post was made in July 2015. Bonanza has been a family bonding experience for us. We are fortunate to have 2 cable channels that run Bonanza in episode order! As a child I lived through most of the original Bonanza run - although my Dad was not a fan of Westerns and preferred watching the NY Mets on TV. I discovered Bonanza in syndication when my sons were 6 years old and DVR the show daily for us to watch at night. It has the distinct honor of being Wife approved and she also never misses an episode. We just returned from our vacation at the Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland, NY and they have over 80 horses. We saw one horse named Bonanza and another horse called Lil' Joe. We love Bonanza the TV series and are grateful to view it on a daily basis. I have never seen seasons 1 & 2.
  • AS BIG AND sprawling a series as was the fictional 'Ponderosa', BONANZA managed to live long enough to see itself sort parody itself. Starting with the earlier seasons, the drama was big time, exciting and very much watched and talked about. We saw the sons all find "true loves" only to loose them by death or to other dudes in frontier Nevada.

    AFTER THIS HAPPENED umpteen times, it became apparent that the production team and cast was strictly,. just "phoning it in" and were able survive into another season by virtue of its own momentum. It was as if the series were in a sort of "Holding Pattern"; or was becoming automatic.

    NOT THAT WE didn't watch, for we did. The characters and their interplay made them seem to be people who we really know. We had Lorne Greene as Ben, the patriarch of the family with his three adult sons, incidentally all sired by pop with three different wives. Ben had been widower thrice, you know.

    THE THREE SONS were (as if you didn't know)were Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker) and Little Joe (Michael Landon_). Others appeared from time to time, but Victor Sen Yung had the most longevity as the family cook, Hop Sing.

    BUT JUST AS there was trouble on the Ponderosa, so there was on the series. Pernell Roberts did some grumbling about the series and after some time in persisting in this course, he was written out. Adam was said to have gone to live in San Francisco.

    WITH ALL OF our criticism, we would also like to give credit where it is due. BONANZA managed to reach a sort of plateau inn popular culture which put it on par with Baseball, Hot Dogs, Chevrolet, Bob Hope and Norman Rockwell paintings.
  • It ran from 1959-1973. Its more than its longevity that says a lot for this series. Its also that it survived changes in fashion and taste from the 50's , psychedelic 60's and remained popular in the 70's.

    I remember repeats of this series. It was a successful combination of all its elements from stories, cast and productions that made it exceptional. Lorne Green had his defining iconic character from this series. Its appeal was across generations. All members of the family could enjoy this. It balanced morality with violence, humour with seriousness. A cartoon series was made as a spin off from this as a result of its impact. The shame is that this series is no longer repeated and many will not know its significance.
  • I know this sounds odd coming from someone born almost 15 years after the show stopped airing, but I love this show. I don't know why, but I enjoy watching it. I love Adam the best. The only disappointing thing is that the only place I found to buy the seasons on DVD was in Germany, and that was only the first two seasons. That is disappointing, but that's OK. I'll keep looking online. If anyone has any tips on where to buy the second through 14th seasons, please email me at I already own the first one. The only down side is that the DVDs being from Germany, they only play on my portable DVD player and my computer. Oh well. I still own it!
  • Am I the only person who considers Bonanza to be the WORST TV western ever? (Then again, please note that I consider DANCES WITH WOLVES to be the worst western movie ever!) Maybe I'm crazy and the rest of the world is right. Maybe I'm like John the Baptist, a voice crying out in the wilderness, trying to tell the truth when everyone else refuses to listen. All I know is that, while I may be the biggest TV western buff who ever lived, even as a kid I smelled a rat in Bonanaza. Though it was one of the first color westerns shown on a network, the color looked so washed out I'd rather it had been in black and white. It was supposed to be a kind of epic on a big scale, but most of the scenes could have been shot in my back yard, at least during the opening seasons. I thought that the comedy interplay between Hoss and Little Joe was embarrassing, not funny, and that Lorne Greene came off as pompous and pretentious rather than convincingly patriarchal. Adam I kind of liked, though he disappeared fast. Everything struck me as corny and sentimental. And as for it being in any way 'original,' the first episode I ever tried to watch (when it was still on Saturday evenings at 7:30, eastern time) was a total rip off of the great movie western High Noon. How much more I liked The Big Valley, in which there was a great deal of believable conflict between the brothers. Or better still High Chapparal, one of the most underrated of TV westerns, with on-location shooting in Old Tucson that really did give it an authentic western look and epic scale, and had Leif Ericson as a father figure who was flawed and fallible and as such human and believable in a way Pa Cartwright never was - for me, at least.
  • Theodore Sturgeon was a great science-fiction writer who made what has come to be known as Sturgeon's Observation:

    "90% of anything is ****."

    When it comes to television, the percentage is closer to 99%. Commercial TV (like commercial radio) was created to make money by selling advertising time. The quality didn't matter, as long as people watched and listened.

    Executives and producers eventually discovered that the most-watched programming was what came to be dubbed "the least-offensive alternative". This was a polite way of saying that, given a choice, the audience would most-likely watch the least-challenging, most mind-numbing program. Rather than, say, shutting off the TV and reading a good book, or having a worthwhile conversation.

    This was probably the audience producer David Dortort was aiming at. "Bonanza" was one of the worst Westerns, and one of the very worst TV "dramas". There's almost nothing believable, let alone plausible, about it.

    When there's a moral conflict, the Cartwrights are almost always on the side of modern, liberal thought, ignoring the fact that their position as wealthy landowners and exploiters of cheap labor would likely have put them on the opposite side. (This distortion is hardly unique to "Bonanza". It occurs in just about every TV Western. See my review of "Doctor Quack, Modern Woman".)

    The stories are usually trite, with predictable endings that rarely show any imaginative insight or "twist". "Bonanza" isn't afraid of "serious social issues", but they're handled in a shallow and unnuanced way. "Morally confused" people are almost always reformed.

    I have yet to see a single episode that meets the //minimum// standards of scripting one would expect from a "quality" television program or motion picture. Some episodes -- such as "A Dollar's Worth of Trouble" -- seem to have been written by people who had never written anything more sophisticated than a sitcom. Even "Bonanza"'s dismal distaff Doppleganger, "The Big Valley", had several outstanding episodes. And "The Rifleman" (which sometimes verged on self-parody) had superb episodes (mostly from Sam Peckinpah and Cyril Hume).

    Lorne Greene is one of the worst actors ever to disgrace television. Though occasionally delivering an understated performance, he is most-often an ox, blundering noisily through his role. There's an episode about a woman committing perjury to protect her boyfriend, the killer. (I don't remember the title.) Greene's performance is So Weird, one has to wonder if he was on drugs.

    None of the principal characters is in any way believable. We're always aware they're actors playing roles (though Dan Blocker is occasionally sincere and charming).

    And on a final note... I have to say something about the lousy makeup. Lorne Greene wore a "toop", and there's often a visible white "median strip" between the hairpiece and the tan makeup he affected. In the episode mentioned previously, Royal Dano -- who had a wonderfully craggy face -- is so slathered with makeup, it looks as if he's been hit with Max Factor's equivalent of gunite. In "Three Wives for Hoss", a "hillbilly" woman from Kentucky wears garish coral lipstick.

    "Bonanza" is such a miserable series that every episode could be destroyed, and nothing of any value -- or interest -- would remain. Except the question of how such a program could have been produced in the first place. But, as H L Mencken said...

    PS: After writing this, I watched "The Code". Honesty compels me to admit that this episode (about a man's need to prove his bravery, even when unjustly provoked) was not-bad. Though it could have been "better", it handled an important issue in a serious way. I should also add that David Rose was a good composer, and the quality of his scores is well-above that of most other TV series.
  • Tracy Winters14 December 2015
    Warning: Spoilers
    This show is probably the most fabricated western in television history.

    The fact that it ran for many years proves nothing except that American western TV show tastes are not very demanding. Lorne Greene was fine as 'Ben Cartwright', but the three actors who played his sons were less appealing. The Cartwrights (I call them the Fartwrongs) include father Ben and his sons: Hoss, who always eats everything in the cookie jar; Adam, who owns a dozen black shirts, black trousers, and black hats; and Little Joe (I call him Little Shmo) who cocks his hat, pulls up his collar, and walks with a swagger, but whom is still nothing more than a short pipsqueak.

    It was extremely silly how the whole clan would be loafing around town and subsequently getting into everyone else's affairs. 'Our heroes' would have more likely been back at the ranch tending to business instead of wandering around the countryside and falling into trouble by stepping in another rancher's cowpie every other day. Story lines were sometimes cliché' with guest stars who were not always competent supporting players.

    Stick with 'Gunsmoke', a much better western with much better actors.
  • Bonanza, even with all of its flaws, is the best TV show ever made. All four actors are perfect for their characters. It is the only show(western), that one minute can be totally serious and the next uproariously funny. To anyone who might be new to the show- I'm not sure how but i guess its possible, the comedic episodes for the most part are the must see episodes. #1 has to be Ponderosa Matador(1963), #2 is the episode Woman of Fire(1965)-loosely based on Taming of the Shrew, which also happens to have my Great Uncle as the father- Don Miguel(played by Jay Novello)#3 would be Hoss and the Leprechauns(1963),#4 is the hilarious-The Wooing of Abigail Jones(Pernell Roberts sings extensively, in the unedited version.) There are also many fine dramatic episodes- including the Legacy(1963), and the War comes to Washoe. Also a must see is the pilot episode, where you get to see the characters as they were originally intended to be, by creator David Dortort. It has no actual title but goes by the title "a Rose for Lotta"- guest starring Yvonne Decarlo of Munsters fame. Some interesting tidbits are that Michael Landon was the only one with a full head of hair- He colored his though because his went gray by age 20. Both Lorne Greene and Pernell Roberts wore hair pieces that were constantly changing(from the very beginning), and Dan Blocker wore a partial and or sprayed his head starting in 63 or 64. I never get tired of watching my favorite episodes(I have about 200 or so on tape). My uncle also appeared on an episode from 1969 entitled A lawman's Lot is not a Happy one.- also a very funny episode- He plays a con man pretending to be a butler/valet. It is really to bad that the shows bosses could not make Pernell happy, because the show was not the same without him. Thats all- by the way after Bonanza my favorite and the best shows are #2 MASH, #3 Star Trek, #4 I Love Lucy, and #5 The Twilight Zone. Anyone one would be hard pressed to come up with better shows, Seinfeld is #14 for me. 6-10- Northern Exposure, Star Trek TNG, Quantum Leap, Cheers, and The Avengers(long live Emma Peel and Tara King(38/25/36) whoa! T. Part 2-It is 7 years later, and I am adding more- MASH is the only other show to be able to have equal parts humor and drama. Unfortunately, after Pernell left, the comedy episodes became more ridiculous and were a lot more infrequent. Pernell actually wanted to leave after the first season. He was the most liberal of the group(which is ironic because he was from Georgia), and he didn't like many stereotypical aspects of the show, that he thought could be vastly improved. The show started in 59', several years before the civil rights movement really took hold of the country. Also, unlike today where seasons are 8-16 episodes; back then it was 32. It was extremely grueling on everyone-They would film for 5 and a half days; usually 16 hr days. Then process and edit etc...There was no time for a break. Plus episodes back then were 47-50 min.vs 40-42 now. Pernell was not ready for the hard core assembly line of TV back then. He was mostly a stage and movie actor. Not only that, but the actors also did commercials for Chevy and promo appearances, and even records. All of that was part of their contracts. He felt( and deservedly so), like cattle. The money was not that important to him vs. everyone else, and he just got burned out. That coupled with what he thought was NBC and the producers ignoring his quality script ideas for the show, made him increasing dissatisfied. Now, in reality , they did listen somewhat-they even hired Lee Marvin for an episode where Adam has a nervous breakdown, after Marvin's character goes insane and treats Adam like a pack mule..Def. one of Pernell's best performances. They continued to try and make him happy by giving him many episodes where he didn't appear or only briefly, but it wasn't enough for him, because he felt trapped by his contract. Back then, a star of a show was not allowed to do anything else. Today that doesn't exist, as star TV actors basically control everything. The show had a big lull in it after he left, and even though the show lived for 8 more seasons, it was clearly lacking. Had the show been made a decade later, things would have been much different. Lastly, both MASH and Bonanza had many, many back story and historical errors, including years and time constantly changing, and back story characters dying and living etc...It seems completely ridiculous to think that they could get away with that, and I don't think they could now-of course the worst is got to be DAllAS when an entire season was a dream!! Still, there are so many great Bonanza episodes to watch, that it trumps all the errors. Everyone has to see my list of the top 5!!!!
  • Bonanza may be the best tv western ever; however in my book it gets competition from Gunsmoke and Rawhide, among others. Still, it is a great one. Be advised that some so-called tv trivia experts state that the part of Hoss Cartwright's mother was played by the late Inger Stevens. How this gets started, I don't know. That part was played by Inga Swenson...
  • Warning: Spoilers
    As a kid in the 70s and 80s, this was one TV Western I watched in rerun. Bonanza is probably the most well known of countless TV Westerns of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It easy to think that TV Westerns are square and sophomoric. However, compared to most TV shows today these Western TV shows range from decent to great. My favorite one is Gunsmoke, but Bonanza was quite good. Although the cowboy period was actually a lot shorter than most people think nowadays, the Western was a great way to present moral lessons. The small towns with very little formal laws is reminiscent of times when having a moral code was key. The gunfighters in the TV Westerners are both idealized and pitied. Having a quick trigger makes one a celebrity, but also means that people constantly want to challenge you to a duel. In Bonanza, the fists are used more than guns. Lorne Greene plays the widowed father of the Cartwright family of three sons - Adam, Hoss, and Joe. Ben Cartwright is a very moral man who uses words and deeds to show why he is the largest landowner in the Virginia City, Nevada area. He can use his fists, but he is getting a little older. His sons use their fists, but all are heroic. Bonanza ran for 14 years, and had a host of guest stars. For example, Carroll O'Connor plays a ruthless entrepreneur who finds out the hard way that greed has a great cost in the long run. Bonanza is about moral values and lessons that people learn from their behaviors. This is something seriously lacking in the vast majority of today's TV. Too much canned laughter and gutter level, shock the audience humor and action. Lastly, Bonanza does a good job in showing about racism and class prejudice. Native Americans are neither portrayed in the brutal fashion like in A Man Called Horse with Richard Harris or like Dances With Wolves with Kevin Costner that idealized Native Americans. The show tried to show how people really were, and the challenges and conflicts in those days as honestly as they could on TV. The script writing on many of these westerns is underrated. Many, such as Sam Peckinpah, who wrote many of the scripts for The Rifleman, went on to become famous directors. Interesting too that the last season Tim Matheson from Animal House replaced Michael Landon while he went on to do Little House On The Prairie.
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