‘Bonanza’ Almost Didn’t Survive Its First Season

Someone looking for a TV show to watch should look no further than the western Bonanza. The show became successful after its second season. Not to mention, it launched careers for stars like Michael Landon. 

While not every cast member was pleased with the series, many people remember the characters fondly. Fans may have remembered the last season feeling cut short. Bonanza had gotten canceled at the time, but there was a chance the show would not have even made it as far as it did. 

‘Bonanza’ is about the Cartwright family

Members of the cast of the TV western series 'Bonanza'
Members of the cast of the TV western series ‘Bonanza’ | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

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Bonanza first aired in 1959 and had a long run of 14 seasons. The series appeared on NBC, and it is the network’s longest-running western. It was a hit among audiences and received critical acclaim, winning multiple awards. The cast featured acclaimed actors like Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, and Landon. 

The story followed Ben Cartwright and his three sons, Adam, Eric “Hoss,” and Little Joe. The family lives on a large ranch called Ponderosa in Nevada. Bonanza was not like typical westerns. Instead of focusing on the range, the main storylines deal with the interpersonal relationships between the characters. 

Landon portrayed fan-favorite Little Joe, and he rose in popularity due to his performance. The actor became comfortable on the show and ended up writing and directing some of the episodes. Despite going through tragedy after tragedy, Little Joe made it to the end.  

When Blocker passed away, his character, Hoss, got written off. The series referenced Hoss’s death, marking the first time a popular show noted a character’s passing. 

‘Bonanza’ ended after 14 seasons

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Despite its strong run, Bonanza got taken off the air in 1973. The show still had a huge fanbase, and everyone was shocked by its sudden cancellation. There were a couple of setbacks, with one being a difficult time slot on the network. The creators had to halt production due to one of the stars passing away. 

Blocker had died soon after a gallbladder surgery at the age of 43. Before filming the 14th season, he suffered from a pulmonary embolism, which is a blockage of an artery in the lungs. Landon had been working on the script for a special that would start off the season. However, he had to make changes while the showrunners scrapped a dozen other scripts.

If fans were unsatisfied with the series finale, the episode is a result of the writers needing to do a quick rewrite. There was no time for a good ending since no one was prepared for the turn of events. Still, the fanbase for Bonanza continues to remain after almost 50 years. 

How ‘Bonanza’ almost got canceled early on

Bonanza managed to last over a decade on television and had thousands of viewers. Even though the series suddenly ended, people were glad to have gotten the chance to grow attached to the characters. Like a few other major TV shows, Bonanza had a tough beginning. 

One of the facts that MeTV lists is how the western almost did not survive the first season. During its initial year of airtime, Bonanza had to compete with a successful legal drama titled Perry Mason. Bonanza did not even make it to the top 30 shows during that year.  

Nevertheless, NBC decided to keep the western around for another season. The reason is that it was one of the first shows to release in color. The network also switched the time slot, which allowed the ratings to rise. From 1964 to 1967, it became the highest-rated show around.