Every so often a tv show comes along whose success is akin to lighting in a bottle. Little House on the Prairie was certainly one of those shows. The TV drama series premiered in 1974 and spanned a whopping nine seasons and 204 episodes. The popular show, which followed the Ingalls family and their adventures in the 1870s, made household names of its cast and is still well-loved today. However, most of the cast never believed the show would make it past Season 1.
One person who was particularly skeptical about the success that Little House on the Prairie would have was none other than Alison Arngrim. Arngrim was unfamiliar with the books that the show was based on, so she didn’t factor in the built-in audience that the show had. Though she was eventually cast as the infamous, Nellie Oleson, she had no idea who the character was when she auditioned. In fact, Arngrim originally auditioned to play Laura Ingalls.
Most of the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ cast didn’t think the show would be successful
“We didn’t know it would be iconic at the time,” Arngrim shared about Little House on the Prairie in an interview with Zoomer. “I’d never read the books, so I had no idea who Nellie Oleson was until I went to the audition. But most of us on the show didn’t think it would last longer than the first season. Even my own father said, ‘Oh, who’s going to watch this?’ But if you’d told us back then that, 40-odd years later, people would be streaming the series on laptops and watching it on their phones, we wouldn’t have believed you. It really took off during the third season, and I think that’s when we realized that we’d tapped into something special. But the idea that Little House would become this life-long thing for us—as iconic a series as Star Trek—was a shock to the whole cast.”
Of course, being part of such a successful and well-known show wasn’t always easy for Arngrim. Because Nellie was such a holy terror, many people assumed that Argrim was like her character in temperament. Little House on the Prairie fans would often verbally accost Arngrim and the actor struggled to find acting work for a while after the show. Still, Arngrim has an appreciation for her place in the Little House on the Prairie cast. In fact, she’s still in awe that she worked on something that still so salient in people’s minds years later.
Alison Arngrim remembers her notorious character, Nellie Oleson
“Remember the crazy episode where I went down the hill in the wheelchair?” Arngrim questioned, citing a memorable episode of Little House on the Prairie. “Well, the episode is called ‘Bunny’ and it’s actually about the horse, but it’s known as the ‘Wheelchair Episode’ to anyone who has seen it. To have one scene from one episode of a TV series become so iconic that everyone knows it? Well, wow! What nerve did I hit? Amazing!”
It’s pretty amazing that Little House on the Prairie still has such a massive fan base years later. Considering most of the cast weren’t sure anyone would watch the show, it’s fair to say the show exceeded their wildest expectations.