‘Little House on the Prairie’: How Melissa Gilbert Found out the Show Was Cancelled

Melissa Gilbert earned celebrity status starring as Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. Working with executive producer and co-star Michael Landon (Charles Ingalls), Gilbert spent most of her youth during her nine seasons on the historical drama. When she received word from a cast member that Little House was being cancelled by NBC, Gilbert was stunned she wasn’t told personally by the network.

Victor French, Melissa Gilbert, and Dean Butler of 'Little House on the Prairie'
Victor French, Melissa Gilbert, and Dean Butler of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | NBCU Photo Bank

Melissa Gilbert headed ‘Little House’ in season 9

Landon made the decision to step away from his on-camera duties in season 9 of Little House and handed the reigns over to Gilbert.

“It seemed as if Little House would never end — that it would go on like that forever,” Gilbert wrote in My Prairie Cookbook. “When season 9 came, Mike left the show as an actor. I was bumped up to number one on our call sheet, and the title was changed to Little House: A New Beginning.”

Gilbert felt protective toward the series she grew up on and was completely invested in Little House continuing its place in the NBC lineup.

“For all intents and purposes, the show felt as if it were mine,” the Little House alum shared. “I felt responsible for its success or failure, and at the same time it seemed like a perfectly natural progression. Not much had really changed. New cast mates came in, but our set life remained the same.”

RELATED: ‘Little House on the Prairie’: How Melissa Gilbert Reacted to Alison Arngrim Leaving the Show

NBC never contacted ‘Little House’ cast about cancellation

Though Little House was taking a bit of a different tack in the show’s ninth season, the cast maintained a business-as-usual routine on set. Gilbert found out from co-star Victor French (Isaiah Edwards) that NBC was pulling the series though network execs never bothered to inform them of the news.

“I’ll never, ever forget one day that Victor French called me to ask if I would do a talk show with him to protest the cancellation,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Sure, what cancellation?’ I hadn’t gotten the official word from NBC, so I had no idea. It turned out that no one did. Not even Mike or [producer] Kent [McCray]. We were all basically handed our pink slips, told to pack up our dressing rooms, and say goodbye.”

The network apparently reconsidered the abrupt ending for the beloved series and decided to air some Little House TV movies which would bring the show to a more appropriate close.

“Fortunately, someone had the good sense to slow things down and film three ‘farewell’ movies’,” Gilbert explained. Each of those movies was emotional and cathartic in its own way.”

Michael Landon blew up the ‘Little House’ set in final TV movie

According to Gilbert, Landon was furious that NBC never reached out to him personally about the fate of Little House. The actor felt it was a slap in the face after his long relationship with the network between starring on Bonanza and creating Little House. Landon made the bold decision to have the series end with an explosion so the sets from the show could never be used again.

“He didn’t want to leave anything behind,” Gilbert wrote in Prairie Tale. “TV and movie sets tend to get recycled over time, and none of us wanted to see Oleson’s Mercantile being used in some other production and have other people tromping through places where many of us had grown up.”

Gilbert reflected on Little House: The Last Farewell and considered it a major chapter in her life coming to a close.

“That film marks the beginning of another major turning point in my life: the end of my childhood,” she commented. “It was time for me to leave the nest and try my wings.”

RELATED: ‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert Named Her ‘Favorite’ Co-Star (Other Than Michael Landon)