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The Scene That Took Bonanza off the Air for Good

Did you grow up watching the show Bonanza? It was one of the most popular Western series of its time and audiences were sad to see the show eventually come to an end. It remains one of the longest-running TV series in America – lasting for 14 seasons and a total of 431 episodes!

The show had to face a lot of competition as Westerns were increasingly becoming popular in the country. They find a way to stand out from popular shows such as Gunsmoke and Wagon Train. It also had to compete with the popular Western films coming out at the time.

It managed to do that despite the setbacks that the show faced. Nevertheless, eventually, it had to come to an end.

Let’s look back at the scene that took Bonanza off the air for good…


Bonanza is one of the longest-running American TV series of all time. It releases at a time when Westerns are booming in America and it competes with other Western TV shows, radio programs, and films. It treasures American institution that lasted for over a decade and was popular among different generations.

Bonanza followed The Cartwright Family – led by Ben Cartwright played by Lorne Greene. The Cartwright family works hard to protect their land, the Ponderosa, from potential marauders.

While such a plotline may have only worked for a few episodes – the show managed to dig deeper into the relationship between Ben Cartwright and his 3 sons. There were also additional plotlines about each of the Cartwright sons which helped the audience relate to the characters.

This was the reason for Bonanza’s major success. It wasn’t just an action-packed series that took place in the old west. It was also a family sitcom and one that showed tremendous character development. The show had a great combination of drama and comedy.

It also made huge stars of the cast members. Pernell Roberts became a heartthrob of the show and served as a great inspiration for American men at the time. He was a brave and stoic cowboy who wasn’t afraid to lead and help his family defend his land. Pernell Roberts went onto have a successful acting career – but his role as Adam Cartwright always remained of his most popular roles.

Dan Blocker played the middle child, Eric ‘Hoss’ Cartwright, which became his best-known role. He was the lovable giant who was tough and brave like his father and brothers. But he also had a softer side that made him appealing.

Michael Landon played Little Joe Cartwright. Like Pernell Roberts, he became a heartthrob from the show and loved playing his character. The show also had a great supporting cast, including Victor Sen Yung who played Hop Sing. The show also had a great selection of guest stars who made cameos – with stars ranging from Yvonne De Carlo to Leonard Nimoy.

To this day, Bonanza reruns on several channels across the United States. DVD sales and streaming of the show continue and it considers to be one of the best American TV series of all time!

But behind the entertaining show that audiences loved watching each week, there were many struggles to keep the show alive. Behind the scenes, things weren’t as smooth as they seemed and in retrospect, one wonders how the show managed to stay on air for so long.

So what was the scene that took Bonanza off the air for good? Well, let’s first look at the troubles that occurred behind the scenes.

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While audiences love Pernell Roberts’ portrayal of Adam Cartwright, the actor himself isn’t pleasing with the character. In fact, he wasn’t the biggest fan of the series at all!

Pernell Roberts came from a serious theater background and was hoping to find serious roles in film and television. He felt that the characters were too one-dimensional and that the plot lines weren’t particularly interesting. The show had become banal and that the longer it went on the more boring it got. He didn’t particularly get along with his co-stars either.

Pernel feels not enough opportunities give to minority actors in the show – though much of this changed in later seasons. Pernell Roberts quit the show in 1965 and Adam Cartwright creates the stories.

While the show managed to continue without him, there seemed to be a sense of emptiness without Adam Cartwright. This was the first major obstacle that the show’s cast and crew had. They had to find out how to keep the show going even with this major setback.

But even though the loss of Adam Cartwright was a great one, there were still many great characters that made the show worth watching. The middle brother, Hoss Cartwright almost became the star of the show. While Dan Blocker had been acting for several years, it was his role as Hoss that perfectly showcased his talents.

To this day, even if you haven’t seen a single episode of Bonanza – you likely have seen or heard of Hoss Cartwright! Sadly, Hoss also eventually had to be written off the show. Sadly, Dan Blocker died on May 13, 1972, at the age of 43. He died from a pulmonary embolism which occurred following a gallbladder surgery.

This was a huge loss for the cast and crew who loved working with Dan Blocker. The audience would be shocked and saddened to not see one of the show’s most popular characters no longer be on screen. Dan Blocker’s passing also brought a huge challenge to the show’s writers. They decided that it should be discussed that Hoss had passed away – rather than creating a storyline implying that he had moved away. This became the first incidence on an American TV series that a major character’s death was discussed.

While the brilliant writers managed to handle Hoss’s death on the show – it was clear that Bonanza simply wasn’t as popular without him. The show did go on, but even to this day, one can clearly see that the latter shows without Hoss simply weren’t as enjoyable to watch.

Though Bonanza was one of the longest shows in the history of American television, after Hoss’s death – it seemed that it’s days were numbered.

As such, the show’s writers had to find a great way to end the show. There was no clear indication on when it would end or get cancelled. They had to find a way to leave on a high note.



On January 16, 1973, the final episode of Bonanza aired. This episode was title ‘The Hunter’ and it’s arguably the darkest episode of the series.

In this episode, Little Joe is making a delivery when he comes across Corporal Bill Tanner played by Tom Skerritt. Corporal Tanner is a madman who hunts down men and kills them for no reason. He decides that Little Joe is his next target. As such, Little Joe has to run for his life – a plot not seen before in Bonanza.

This episode was directed by Michael Landon and he also co-wrote the script. This particular script was only 39 pages long and was the shortest script of all Bonanza episodes. While the episode was a minor success, it didn’t attract the viewing that other episodes did. In fact, the storyline was later used for the first episode of the series finale of Gunsmoke – which arguably did the plotline better.

This was an entertaining episode, but it didn’t offer the ending that many fans would have hoped for. The main focus was on Little Joe and Corporal Tanner and we didn’t get a closure on what happens to the Cartwright family or to the Ponderosa afterwards. During this era, it was rare for any TV series to end with an explanation on how the characters move on. The finale episode, therefore, was sort of a cliffhanger…where the audience has to guess what happens to Ben Cartwright and Little Joe.

Perhaps after seeing Corporal Tanner drop dead after failing to kill Little Joe, the audience had gotten bored of the show. Perhaps this was the scene that took Bonanza off the air for good. There didn’t seem to be much room left for expanding the story or developing the characters any further.

Bonanza remains one of America’s most loved shows, perhaps this was the scene that took Bonanza off the air . In retrospect, one wonders how the show managed to persist for so long with all its challenges. The departure of Pernell Roberts after the first few seasons should have led to the end of the show.

But luckily, Dan Blocker’s performance as Hoss was a major draw for the show. The heartthrob that was Michael Landon was also a great draw for the show and he won praise for his acting ability. But after Dan Blocker’s death, ratings and viewings dropped.

It seemed that after Little Joe managed to escape from Corporal Tanner, the audiences were ready to let the characters go. Perhaps it was assumed that the Cartwrights would continue to roam the Ponderosa – and that there would be peace at last.


Now, let’s hear from you:

Did you grow up watching Bonanza? How do you feel about it’s ending?

In fact, here’s what we’d like to know:

Do you think that the show still holds up today?

Or does it not match up to the more sophisticated Western shows today?

Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.

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