Michael Landon Was Abruptly Dumped by NBC in 1989, a ‘Little House’ Producer Said: ‘It Irked Me’
In 1989, Michael Landon at the very least deserved a plaque for his dedicated service to NBC.
That year the network, after Landon’s almost 30 years with them, told the star “they didn’t need him anymore,” according to a Little House producer.
His show Highway to Heaven was cancelled by the network and the former Little House on the Prairie producer, director, writer, and star was shown the door with little notice and even less thanks.
Michael Landon started working with NBC in the 1950s
Starting off with the western drama Bonanza in 1959, Landon’s career with NBC took off from the beginning. Portraying Little Joe from the respected Cartwright clan, the actor remained on the series until its end an impressive 14 years later in 1973.
Producer Kent McCray worked with Landon on both Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie. Speaking with a blog dedicated to the work of Laura Ingalls Wilder in 2008, McCray shared in-depth about working alongside Landon on the series.
“At the end of Bonanza, NBC knew the value of Michael Landon and they had him under contract to develop shows,” he said. “It was a package that they retained with Michael so that he would hopefully work for them either on shows that he came up with or that they brought to him.
“In 1974, Ed Friendly came to NBC with the package of Little House on the Prairie. They knew Michael wanted to act and they also knew that he wanted to produce, so they went to Michael and offered him the part of Pa Ingalls on Little House and he would also be Executive Producer with Ed Friendly.”
Landon was let go by NBC
According to McCray, in 1989, it had been five years since Little House had been cancelled. Landon’s recent show at that time was Highway to Heaven, which was also a family-friendly program about a man who had died and 40 years later was sent back to Earth to work on God’s behalf as an angel. That year, after five seasons, it had also been cancelled.
It was after the end of that series that Landon and NBC parted ways.
“After all those years at NBC, they told Michael at the end of Highway to Heaven that they didn’t need him anymore,” McCray said. “It irked me that they treated him that way. He was loved by so many people, but the network had changed people.
“In other words, all the people who had loved Bonanza and Little House and Highway to Heaven, like Brandon Tartikoff, had left. There was a whole new regime coming in and the new people wanted to put their stamp on everything, and Michael was not part of that stamp.”
Landon died in 1991
It wasn’t until his 1991 death from liver and pancreatic cancers that NBC finally gave Landon an acknowledgment for his contribution to television with his three successful series. A tribute special called “Michael Landon: Memories with Laughter and Love” was broadcast that September on the network.
Also that year, Melissa Gilbert who was daughter ‘Half-Pint’ to Landon’s Pa Ingalls on Little House, delivered an Emmy tribute to Landon months after his death.
She wrote in her 2009 memoir Prairie Tale about that night, “I was upset that Mike never got an Emmy wile he was alive. He was never even nominated. Of course, Mike would have told me that stuff wasn’t important. He had his priorities straight.”