‘Highway to Heaven’: Why Michael Landon Felt His Post-‘Little House’ Series Was Necessary

Michael Landon and Victor French of 'Highway to Heaven'
Michael Landon and Victor French of ‘Highway to Heaven’ |
Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

After Little House on the Prairie had completely wrapped up in 1984, Michael Landon wasted no time in moving on to his next project, Highway to Heaven.

The show, which ran for five years on NBC, was Landon’s message of hope and faith as a producer of wholesome, family-friendly programming.

Melissa Gilbert on the lesson Michael Landon taught her

A scene from 'Little House on the Prairie'
A scene from ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | NBCU Photo Bank

Melissa Gilbert who played Michael Landon’s daughter Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie considered Landon her surrogate father, especially after the death of her own father in 1976.

She talked to blogtalkradio in 2015 about the legacy of Landon in her life.

“The overall idea that he pounded into me, from a little girl, into my brain was that nothing’s more important than home and family,” she said. “No success, no career, no achievements, no accomplishments – nothing’s more important than loving the people you love and contributing to a community.

“Though we were working, really, really hard, we were not saving the world one episode of television at a time. We’re just entertaining people and there are more important things to do.”

Victor French and Landon at one point had a falling-out

Michael Landon and Victor French
Michael Landon and Victor French | Frank Carroll/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

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French, who seamlessly moved from Little House as Isaiah Edwards to play Highway to Heaven‘s Mark Gordon, was close friends with Landon. At one point in their working relationship, however, the two actors stopped speaking when French pursued his own series, the comedy Carter Country, on ABC. It was an utter betrayal for Landon.

In her 2016 book Little House in the Hollywood Hills: A Bad Girl’s Guide to Becoming Miss Beadle, Mary X, and Me, actor Charlotte Stewart who portrayed Eva Beadle the Walnut Grove school teacher, wrote about the two men’s quarrel.

“Victor was very much inside the Mike Landon and crew frat group,” Stewart wrote. “[French] wrote and directed quite a number of episodes. The two had a big falling out later in the run of the show when, without Mike’s blessing, Victor left to star in his own sitcom called Carter Country.”

Landon showed his anger by writing the Edwards’ family out of Walnut Grove.

All was forgiven however, after French’s show was cancelled by ABC. He was welcomed back to Walnut Grove with open arms, where he stayed until the show’s cancellation in 1984. French died in 1989 of cancer, just months before Highway to Heaven ended its run.

‘Highway to Heaven’ was made after ‘Little House’ was canceled

Michael Landon
Michael Landon | Ron Tom/NBCU Photo Bank

For Landon, who died in 1991, Highway to Heaven wasn’t simply another project to keep him busy after the end of Little House. It was a necessity, as he explained to the Los Angeles Times in 1988 the circumstances that led him to create the series.

“I was driving through Beverly Hills to pick up my kids on a Friday night and people were honking at each other,” he said. “There is no worse place for that than Beverly Hills; I think when people have a little bit more money, they really believe that the Red Sea will part and their car will go forward.

“And I thought, ‘Why is everybody so angry? If they would just spend that same time being nice… It’s obvious the flow of traffic is going to go much better if everybody has his opportunity.’ Man really has an opportunity to be quite wonderful.”