‘Little House on the Prairie’: How ‘The Last Farewell’ Symbolizes the Show’s Cancellation Drama

When the network decided to cancel Little House on the Prairie, they didn’t alert Michael Landon, the show’s executive producer, writer, director, and star. They simply removed it from the schedule. After the show ended, the Little House on the Prairie team went on to film three movies: Look Back to Yesterday, Bless All the Dear Children, and The Last Farewell. The Last Farewell, in particular, mirrored Landon’s feelings about the show’s cancellation, according to Melissa Gilbert (who played Laura Ingalls Wilder).

'Little House on the Prairie' -- 'The Last Farewell' explosion
‘Little House on the Prairie’ — ‘The Last Farewell’ | NBCU Photo Bank

How Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon learned ‘Little House on the Prairie’ was canceled

In the spring of 1983, Gilbert received a phone call asking if she’d like to appear on The Dinah Shore Show or The Tonight Show to “protest” the cancellation of Little House on the Prairie. When the actor received the call, she’d been unaware of the show’s cancellation. So she quickly hung up and called Landon.

“I got Mike on the phone and asked if we were canceled,” wrote Gilbert in her memoir, Prairie Tale. “He said he hadn’t received an official call from the network, but had heard Little House wasn’t listed among the shows on NBC’s fall lineup.”

Gilbert and Landon hung up and the Laura Ingalls actor called her agent, “Uncle Ray,” for more information and he confirmed they weren’t on the schedule.

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“By the time I called Mike back, he had done his own reconnaissance work and he was furious that he had never received an official phone call from NBC president Brandon Tartikoff or anyone else at the network, letting him know the fate of the show,” wrote Gilbert. “He had been on the network since 1959. Perceiving disrespect, Mike’s temper red-lined. He wanted to destroy all the sets—Walnut Grove, everything in Simi Valley.”

“I’m going to blow the whole f*cking thing up,” he said, according to Gilbert.

Uncle Ray told Landon to reel his passion in and suggested he “milk the situation for a couple of Little House movies” first. And that’s what he did.

‘Little House on the Prairie: The Last Farewell’

According to Gilbert, The Last Farewell was Landon’s best of the three. He wrote a script that had Charles and Caroline return for a nostalgic trip home. But shortly into their visit, a villainous developer pops up out of the blue and announces that the land Walnut Grove is on actually belongs to him. He says the townspeople can stay, but only under his conditions. The community rejects his proposal.

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At one point, Laura is so enraged at the situation, she throws something through the kitchen window. (Her anger mirroring what Landon felt when the network confirmed that the show — in this case, the town — was canceled.) After seeing this, Mr. Carter (Uncle Ray, perhaps) says: “You want to do something more than break windows? I got a wagon loaded to the gills with dynamite.”

The next day, the town gathers together in church and forms a plan.

“Rather than surrender everything they worked to build, they decide to blow it up,” wrote Gilbert. Sound familiar?

“That was Mike’s f*ck-you to the network,” she continued. “He didn’t want to leave anything behind.”