One of the great things about watching a TV show or a movie or reading a book is that sometimes they can take you to another world.
I’ve always felt that the classic TV westerns “Bonanza” and “Gunsmoke” took you to another world, a sanitized and fictionalized version of the Old West, but a different world nonetheless.
“Bonanza” ran from 1959 to 1973 on NBC and was the story of the Cartwrights. The father Ben (Lorne Greene) and his sons Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker) and Joe (Michael Landon) ran a ranch called the Ponderosa in Nevada. The ranch seemed to occupy half of the western United States.
And who can forget the map of the Ponderosa going up in flames during the opening credits to reveal the Cartwrights racing towards you on their horses. And who could forget the catchy theme?
Another twist that could only come from the show’s writer’s room was Ben Cartwright was married three times and lost all three wives. Each of his sons have a different mother. The stories of each mother were told in flashback episodes.
“Bonanza” was consistently entertaining during its first several seasons. The Cartwrights battled and won against some really nasty villians and many episodes were filmed on location in beautiful areas such as Lake Tahoe and certain scenic ranches in southern California.
And how “Bonanza” showed the triumphs and struggles of a family was a big strength of the show.
Would “Bonanza” work as a show today? No. But for its time, it was one of the best westerns on television and deservedly so. And it has a good seat at the table of American television icons.
However, after Pernell Roberts left the show in 1965, I wasn’t a big fan of the seasons after that. They weren’t bad, but taking away Adam’s storylines left a void that couldn’t be filled by the three remaining main characters or the characters added in later seasons. It would have been the same situation if one of the other three original characters had left.
There was some humorous episodes, but one thing that did make me chuckle was the show’s editing. During the fight sequences, you could always tell it was a stunt double. In fact, sometimes you could see the face of the stunt double.
The first six seasons are currently on DVD. The show can also be seen on Me-TV and TV Land.
I’ll turn my attention to “Gunsmoke” tomorrow.
Until next time. . .