This ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Cast Member Was Sure the Show Would Flop: ‘Who Would Watch This Drivel?’

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

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost 40 years since family drama Little House on the Prairie ended its nearly ten-year run on NBC. 

Michael Landon starred as Charles Ingalls, along with Karen Grassle as his wife Caroline Ingalls, and Melissa Gilbert, Melissa Sue Anderson, and twins Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush as their daughters Laura, Mary, and Carrie Ingalls.

From the start, the show set in 1800s Minnesota grabbed viewers’ hearts.

One of the series’ stars, however, wasn’t as smitten with it at first and didn’t think it had much of a chance at success at all.

‘Little House on the Prairie’ was an oddity when it premiered

Upon Little House‘s 1974 premiere, audiences were watching The Six-Million Dollar Man, police dramas, and musical variety shows. Historical dramas weren’t on the horizon for television. Little House on the Prairie changed that with its adorable cast of child actors and near-authentic look at life in prairie days.

Melissa Gilbert in her memoir Prairie Tale said “the story was straight out of the classic series of books, narrated and seen through the eyes of nine-year-old Laura. Leaving their family behind is hard, but the family’s resilient spirit, as led by Charles’ instant affection for the new land, despite its dangers, mirrored that of the rest of the country.”

The American viewing public fell in love with the prairie as well, making it a ratings success for many years.

The cast member who thought ‘Little House’ would crash and burn

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

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Alison Arngrim who played difficult-to-like Nellie Oleson on the series wrote in her memoir Confessions of a Prairie B*tch that when she signed on to the show, it seemed unlikely to become a success.

“Nobody, I mean nobody, except for maybe one person, thought for an instant that [the show] would be the phenomenon it turned out to be,” Arngrim wrote. “Obviously, crazy old Michael Landon was way ahead of us all on this one, but I don’t think even he anticipated this level of worldwide ‘cultdom.’”

The Nellie Oleson actor stated that while she was turned down for the roles of angelic Laura Ingalls and her sister Mary, she was “hired instantly” for “the great b*tch role of Nellie.”

She shared her father’s assessment that the show would probably not “last one season,” and “Who on earth would actually watch this drivel?”

Arngrim was wrong, thankfully

Alison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson on 'Little House on the Prairie'
Alison Arngrim as Nellie Oleson on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ | NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Fortunately for the cast and crew of the NBC hit, Arngrim and her father were wrong. 

Not only did the show succeed; it thrives still, living on in reruns around the world.

Little House lingers; it’s syndicated daily in over 140 countries. There’s even a 60-DVD boxed set shaped like a covered wagon you can buy for 200 bucks. The French set comes in a little house; it’s much prettier,” she said.

Arngrim summed up Little House‘s appeal succinctly, describing it as a show “about a family trying to achieve the American dream,” she said.

“Maybe it’s what the world needed after the crazy, druggy debauchery of the late 1960s and early 70s. Every episode was filled with family values, love, and friendship. The show made you feel good; it made you appreciate what you had.”