in the vicinity of Virginia City, Nevada, during and after the Civil War, soon
after the discovery of the fabulous Comstock Silver Lode, Bonanza
was the story of a prosperous family of ranchers. Widower
Ben Cartwright was the patriarch of the all-male clan and owner of the
Ponderosa Ranch. Each of his three sons had been borne by a different wife, none
of whom was still alive. 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 holdings. Hoss, the middle son, was a mountain of a man
who was as gentle as he was huge, at times naive and not particularly
bright. Little Joe was the youngest, most impulsive and most romantic of
the Cartwright offspring. The adventures of these men, individually and
their dealings with the mining interests and the ranching interests, and
the people whose paths crossed theirs made up the series Bonanza.
The program was not a traditional
shoot-em' up Western. It relied more on the relationships among the principals
and the stories of the characters played by weekly guest stars than
it did on violence. Many of the episodes explored serious dramatic themes.
premiered on Saturday night in the fall of 1959, and was the first Western
to be televised in color. It was at first only moderately successful, but two
years later, when it moved to Sunday night as the replacement for The
Dinah Shore Chevy Show, it soared in popularity. For most of the 1960's,
Bonanza ranked as one of the highest-rated programs on television, placing
number one for three seasons between 1964-1967. It's driving theme song, written
by two Hollywood songsmiths who had written many top movie hits of the 1940's
and 1950's, was on the hit
parade. Bonanza finished second only to Gunsmoke as the longest-running,
most successful Western in the history of television.
were cast changes over the years. Pernell Roberts left the series at the end of the 1964-1965 season and his role was written out of the
show. At the start of the 1967-1968 season, a wanderer named Candy was
hired as a ranch hand for the Cartwrights and practically became one of the family.
Three years later, when Candy left the series (he later returned), two other new cast members
arrived to join the Ponderosa household. Dusty Rhoades was a friend of Ben's,
and Jamie Hunter, his charge, was an orphaned teenaged son of a
rainmaker who had been killed. Prior
to the start of production for the 1972-1973 season, Dan Blocker died unexpectedly. His
loss, coupled with a move to a new day and time, after 11 years on Sunday
night, may have contributed to the poor ratings performance that resulted in
Bonana's cancellation in the middle of its 14th season.
the summer of 1972, while Bonanza was still being aired on Sundays,
reruns from the 1967-1970 period were shown on Tuesdays at 7:30pm under
the title Ponderosa. Bonanza itself moved to Tuesdays that
PAX aired a prequel, The
Ponderosa, during the 2001-2002 season.