Bonanza was one of the longest running and most popular of all television Westerns. For 14 seasons, audiences enthusiastically tuned in to see the High-Sierra adventures of the Cartwright clan. Nestled above the shores of Lake Tahoe is the Ponderosa Ranch, home of Ben Cartwright and his sons Adam, Hoss and Joe (a.k.a. “Little Joe”). Each of the young men was born to a different deceased mother, making poor Ben a three-time widower. Strong characters and intriguing plots helped to set Bonanza apart from the usual gun-slinging formula shows of its heyday.
One reason for Bonanza’s success was the show’s attention to script development. The characters were allowed to grow and evolve; story lines crossed into controversial topics, exploring racial tension, domestic violence and substance abuse. Each of the Cartwright men developed relationships with women on the show; although almost every woman that came into their lives died tragically.
When it premiered on NBC Sept. 12, 1959, Bonanza was not an immediate ratings winner, but the show remained on the air due to the fact that it was one of few shows filmed in color. After barely surviving its first two seasons on Saturday nights, the show moved to Sunday and became a hit: It was the No. 1 show four years in a row from 1964 to 1967. In 10 of its 14 years on the air, Bonanza was in the national Top 10 — quite a comeback for those Cartwrights.
Bonanza, Monday – Friday at 4pm, on Fox Classics