This popular TV show followed the Cartwright family on weekly basis, and viewers just couldn’t get enough of their interesting adventures and life changing events. Central figure was Ben Cartwright who had three sons, from three different wives (and unfortunately, they have all passed away). Ben was raising his sons to be honest and kind people and his family included: oldest one - Adam (who worked as urbane architect), Eric whose nickname was Hoss (he was very kind and generous) and the youngest child Joseph also known as the Little Joe. Another important part of the family was Hop Sing, their Chinese cook, who was also one of the most important figures in the show.
Bonanza had a very simple plot, following Ben Cartwright and his three sons, as they deal with everyday problems and try to look after themselves, their friends and neighbours, and of course - their land. Their ranch was called Ponderosa (in Nevada) and it was positioned on the Tahoe Lake. The whole show was taking place on their ranch or at the nearest town – Virginia City, where the family went to see their local Sheriff – Roy and his sidekick deputy Clem Foster.
Actors Lorne Greene (who played Ben), Pernell Roberts (who played Adam), Dan Blocker (in the role of Hoss) and Michael Landon (who portrayed Little Joe) were true superstars at the time. Even the opening credits (at the beginning) were rotated every week, so that each actor’s name comes first the equal amount of times.
As the show was growing and developing, each episode was focused on one or two men from the Cartwright family (while others were just mentioned at the beginning or the end of an episode) which gave actors the opportunity to work on other projects at the same time or at least have some time off. Also, this way, each character had a chance to be fully developed in the show.
At the beginning of this famous show, the character of Ben was recalling each of his three wives, in flashbacks, showing that he was truly in love with each and every one of them, but was left heartbroken every time. First love he had died from a malady, second wife was slain and the last one he loved left him for another man. Every time he had to stay strong for the kids, and every time no matter how hard it was, he managed to pick up the pieces and move on.
Bonanza was a TV show developed by NBC, and one of their first programmes filmed and broadcasted in colour. When the airing started, Bonanza had a strong on screen rival Perry Mason, and first ratings were very disappointing. The show was almost cancelled, when NBC executives gave it another chance, by switching the sponsor (Chevrolet took over) and moving the show to another airing time – Sundays at 9 p.m.
The TV show gained much more audience and soon reached number one rating in the mid sixties. Soon, Bonanza exploded and became a TV show which stayed among five most viewed TV shows for over nine seasons in a row (until 1971, when it eventually fell out of this precious top 5 spot).
During 1972 TV show Bonanza got another airing time – Tuesday, and that was the day when CBS started airing their popular sitcom Maude. This was the first big shock for the viewers, and the second one was death of one of most popular actors Dan Blocker. These two things led to a logical ratings breakdown, but the network decided to go on with the show. David Canary returned to Bonanza, and new character was added – Griff King (portrayed by an actor Tim Matheson). The character of Griff King was added to draw back the younger audience, and he was a man who nearly murdered his over abusive stepdad and ended up on parole, working for Ben Cartwright.
Even this wasn’t enough to save the show from being cancelled so it finally happened in 1973, in January. Fans were devastated but it was more than clear that Dan Blocker couldn’t be replaced and that his character Hoss was the essence of the show.
Bonanza was truly a legendary TV show, and it certainly influenced and changed the perception of TV series in the whole world. Even its main music theme became legendary, and it is (even today) one of the most memorable music themes made and developed for TV. Authors are Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.
Another thing this TV show was known for was the set. The first set (Virginia City) was used till 1970, and was positioned at Paramount studios. Afterwards the crew switched to another shooting location, a cheaper one, placed in Warner Studios. (The show was shot there for 3 years) Nevada set (showing the Ponderosa Ranch) was placed and built in Incline Village, and stayed a real tourist attraction until it was sold in 2004.
Since Bonanza was very famous show all over the world, it was more than suitable for development of various merchandising things. Bonanza merchandise included: folk music albums, a chain of Bonanza inspired restaurants and steakhouses, action figures, plates, novels, posters, magazines, books, clothes, and even lunch boxes and buckets.
Another thing that viewers loved was the costumes used in Bonanza. Every character war the same outfit, in each episode, and became recognized in that clothing combination. For instance Ben was always in his shirt and gray pants, wearing his cream hat and sometimes a scarf (in green). Adam was always in black, looking elegant and a bit upper class, Hoss was in white and brown with a huge hat while Little Joe wore gray and green with leather gloves. They always looked the same and the audience loved it.