How much do you know about the timeless western tv show Bonanza? Probably not as much as you think! In this video, we will unravel tragic details you didn’t know about Bonanza. In addition to learning production secrets and behind the scenes facts, we’ll address why this show has been able to stand the the test of time.
Only a handful of tv shows have surpassed a decade on the air, and Bonanza is one of the few. Although recent hits like ‘Dynasty and ‘Game of Thrones’ were successful, nothing in recent history has quite reached the level of Bonanza. Something about the relationship between the characters has cemented this show in history. Interestingly, the show’s creator drew inspiration from King Arthur, which may be one reason why this show stands out. However, the show, throughout its 14-season run, it is fair to share controversies. Here are some of them. Join Facts Verse to learn more about the Tragic Details You Didn’t Know About Bonanza.
Joe Cartwright Height Issues
On most tv shows, there is one character who is famous to be the heartthrob, sweeping women off their feet. In the case of Bonanza, it is none other than Michael Landon, who portrays ‘Little Joe.’ But there is one detail the production team keeps a secret about this character. The handsome Little Joe reportedly wore 4-inch lifts in his shoes so that he could appear taller on set. It is not uncommon for actors and actresses to enhance their physical appearance in order to suit a role. But, this case is somewhat peculiar, as Michael Landon stood at a very average 5 feet 9 inches tall. The problem was, that his co-stars towered over him, with Lorne Green and Pernell Roberts both standing at 6 feet. Therefore, Little Joe had to manipulate his height to even come close to reaching their level.
First Season Struggles
Given that Bonanza had a long and successful run, many viewers forget that the first season was somewhat of a train wreck. It ruins by poor ratings and low viewership. In fact, the reception was so bad that NBC almost canceled it after the first season. To make matters worse, Bonanza aired on Saturdays, during a time slot that competed with the popular Perry Mason series. This meant that Bonanza didn’t even break into the top 30 television shows during its first season.
Luckily for the production team, the network saw the potential and chose to ignore public opinion at the time. Bonanza moves to Sundays at 9 pm, and that is where the actual success story began. It flourished in that slot for the next 13 seasons. Season two started off much stronger than the first, aided by sponsorship by Chevrolet. This Chevrolet sponsorship led to a spike in ratings and also helped fund the production costs, which were too high for the show to sustain on its own. Join Facts Verse to learn more about the Tragic Details You Didn’t Know About Bonanza.
Most Bonanza Characters Wore Hairpieces
One of the many reasons Bonanza remembers so fondly is its star-studded cast of handsome Hollywood men. However, these men all had a secret – they wore hairpieces on set! The only exception was Michael Landon as Little Joe, who did not need one.
Ben Cartwright, played by Lorne Greene, wore a toupee. At one time, he experienced a hair mishap while taking a dive into a river. Adam Cartwright, played by Pernell Roberts, also wore a hairpiece, which was a decision he wasn’t happy about. But, the show’s creator forced him to wear it on set. The reason is quite simple – they believe that the hair piece made Adam Cartwright look younger than his tv father, Ben Cartwright. Since Lorne Green and Pernell Roberts were only 13 years apart, the hairpiece made this gap look much larger and more believable. In the episode calls “Thanks for Everything, Friend’, Adam’s hairpiece sweeps away in a river, an incident that catches by some eagle-eyed fans.
The third character who wore a toupee was Eric Hoss Cartwright, played by Dan Blocker. This means Little Joe was the only main character who had natural hair! But, that’s not entirely true. Michael Landon started going gray in his 20s and had to routinely dye his hair to maintain a youthful look. So while he didn’t need a hairpiece, it can be said that the entire cast had some well-kept hair secrets. Join Facts Verse to learn more about the Tragic Details You Didn’t Know About Bonanza.
Same Clothes Every Episode
Frequent viewers of Bonanza might have caught this fact already. Your eyes didn’t deceive you – the Bonanza cast actually wore the same set of clothes on every single episode. This decision was made during the fourth season in an effort to minimize production costs. By using the same costumes for every scene and episode, they were able to save lots of money when they had to re-film scenes, particularly action shots.
Eventually, the decision paid off even more than the production team expected. By having each character in the same outfit, the show had an even more identifiable branding. It even inspired the other film and television series to stick with a single costume for their characters. Well-known examples include Superman with his blue tights and red cape, or Indiana Jones with his khaki clothes and a fedora. Join Facts Verse to learn more about the Tragic Details You Didn’t Know About Bonanza.
After a rocky start, Bonanza stood the test of time to gain a cult following in the US and the rest of the world. However, similar to other long-running shows, it fell victim to cast changes on several occasions. In 1965, after nearly six years as a senior cast member, Pernell Roberts quit the show. Evidently, he had an issue with the show’s portrayal of wealthy ranchers, and even called it “junk tv”. But it didn’t stop there. He accused the NBC network of producing unoriginal content, effectively burning all bridges on his way out.
The beginning of the 1972-1973 season was also marked by tragedy, with the passing of Dan Blocker. The show’s ratings started to fall drastically, which was bad news for the network and the production team behind Bonanza.
In yet another controversy, Lorne Greene, who played Ben Cartwright, wanted out of the show after just 19 episodes. His reason for this was that the show was nothing like what he was told it’d be. In an interview, Greene specifically complained about the opening of the show. He said that every episode began with a family member pointing a gun at someone, asking them why they came to Ponderosa. Greene went to the producers and asked why they had to point a gun at each person. He felt that the other characters probably didn’t know they crossed into Ponderosa, and the main characters should greet them with less aggression.
Surprisingly, the producers agreed with Greene and changed the show. The rest of the series focused more on love and family than western violence. If it hadn’t changed, Greene might not have continued as a cast member – and Bonanza might not have continued, either! Plus, the new focus on American family values is what helped the show remain relevant for so many years after it ended. Join Facts Verse to learn more about the Tragic Details You Didn’t Know About Bonanza.
Characters passing during the production of a series isn’t too uncommon, but in the case of Bonanza, it subjected them to a challenge that wasn’t seen before. Dan Blocker, who played the sound and easy-going Hoss Cartwright, tragically passed after 13 seasons on the show.
The unexpected death of Blocker, who was loved by the entire crew, signaled the end of the show. Lorne Greene even admitted in an interview that he didn’t see how the show would continue after Dan’s death. Michael Landon, who at the time was directing and producing the show, said it was too painful for him. The loss of Dan Blocker changed everything for the cast and the show itself.
Bonanza started the 14th season without Dan Blocker or his character. They completed the season with 15 episodes, ending in January 1973.
While fans of the show may have wanted it to go on forever, for the NBC network, Bonanza was about business. With Dan Blocker’s death, the network wasn’t sure the show could continue with the same level of success. Ultimately, they decided to cancel the show in November of 1972. The decision shocked the entire crew, but there was little to be done. Lorne Greene even admitted that he never saw it coming. If he had, he says they would’ve gone out with a bang, instead of going out with a whimper.
Since its cancellation, several attempts have been made to revive the show. In the mid-80s, “Bonanza – the next generation” was made. It featured no returning cast members, and therefore struggled to get any traction. Other efforts failed to even make it to production.
While the show has ended for good, there are still 14 seasons of Bonanza for us to revisit and enjoy. What do you think about the show’s ending? Should it have continued without Dan Blocker, or do you think NBC was right to cancel the show? Let us know in the comments! And if you enjoyed this video, be sure to click the like button, subscribe to Facts Verse and click the notification bell so you never miss a video.