Bonanza’s Sudden Cancellation

While attempting to learn more about an “alternate” theme song for Bonanza, I found a number of articles discussing Bonanza‘s sudden cancellation in November 1972. The tragic death of Dan Blocker on May 13th of that year, less than a month before production was to begin on Bonanza‘s 14th season, meant drastic changes had to be made to scripts that had already been finished. Blocker’s character, Hoss Cartwright, was incredibly popular.

According to a May 21st article in The Chicago Tribune, 14 scripts had been completed. David Dortort, Bonanza‘s creator and executive producer, felt “all will have to be scrapped.” An additional 12 were in the process of being written and would “either have to be dropped or heavily rewritten” [1]. One finished script (for an episode called “The Witness”) involved Blocker’s character searching for “a witness to free his brother Joe of a murder charge” [2].

Prior to Blocker’s death, the plan was to kick off the new season with a special two-hour episode written by Michael Landon. The episode would’ve seen Hoss marry only for his new wife to be murdered. The script was filmed with Landon’s character, Little Joe, taking over for Hoss. Landon also directed the episode. It was broadcast as scheduled on Tuesday, September 12th, 1972. Previously, Bonanza was seen on Sunday nights for more than a decade.

The episode ranked fourth for the week with a 25.1/38 Nielsen rating [3]. But its new Tuesday competition was more than Bonanza could handle. Clarence Peterson, writing in The Chicago Tribune, suggested as much in September while analyzing the new season:

There is a sense in NBC’s Tuesday night strategy, however. NBC starts with a one-hour show, Bonanza, against two half-hour comedies, which puts the hold on Bonanza viewers thru the first half-hour of opposition programs that begin at 7:30.

The return of a news and public affairs hour at 9 p.m., on the other hand, indicates that NBC views its Tuesday night chances as a long shot. Viewers who start with NBC and find themselves locked in for three hours will quickly discover that they’ll miss the movie on CBS or Marcus Welby on ABC, and they are unlikely to make a habit of that [4].

On Monday, November 6th, 1972 NBC officially canceled Bonanza. It was a complete surprise to the cast and crew but not, perhaps, to the television industry as a whole. Bonanza‘s Nielsen ratings had tumbled following the strong season premiere. The October 24th episode ranked 52nd; the October 31st episode 48th [5, 6].

Bonanza‘s sudden cancellation meant there was no time for the cast and crew to write a final episode. Said Lorne Green, “If we had know this was coming, we would have gone out with a bang and not a whimper [7]. Filming on the last episode was finished on Wednesday, November 8th, only two days after the network had announced Bonanza‘s cancellation [8]. “I was rather surprised NBC renewed the show after Dan died,” Greene stated, “but since they did, I would have liked to see them play out the year” [9].

The final episode of Bonanza was broadcast on Tuesday, January 16th, 1973. It wasn’t the final episode filmed, however. That episode was shown the previous week. And thus, the show that had once topped the Nielsen ratings limped rather than galloped off into the sunset after 431 episodes.

Sources:

1 Buck, Jerry. “Bonanza’s Dan Blocker: Unique and Irreplaceable.” Chicago Tribune. 21 May. 1972: N2.
2 An episode called “The Witness” was broadcast on January 2nd, 1973 and is presumably a reworking of this script.
3 Smith, Cecil. “Old-Timer Felled by Ratings: NBC Will Drop Bonanza in Middle of Its 14th Season.” Los Angeles Times. 7 Nov. 1972: A3.
4 Petersen, Clarence. “Networks Plan Tuesday NIght Shakeup.” Chicago Tribune. 5 Sep. 1972: A11.
5 “‘Bonanza’ Put Out to Pasture; N.B.C. Also Axes ‘Bold Ones’.” New York Times. 7 Nov. 1972: 71.
6 Smith, Cecil. “Old-Timer Felled by Ratings.”
7 Kilday, Gregg. “Bonanza’s Final Ride Into the Sunset.” Los Angeles Times. 14 Nov. 1972: D1.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.


32 Comments

  • Keresia Aiono says:

    I loved this programme I never miss an episodes in NZ I also loved all of the Cartwright men they are all handsome and funny
    I wish I had an airfare to go and visited the Ponderosa
    I cried everytime I watched Adam Boss and little Joe and their farther
    RIP till we all meet again
    Love them
    Keresia Aiono

  • william kelly says:

    You will never be able to see the Ponderosa House, it all burnt down and now apartments are their in its place. I tried myself to go see the House their by Lake Tahoe but was told it no longer exists…

    • marymitch says:

      The “real” Ponderosa ranch house was a Hollywood set. A theme park in Incline Village near Lake Tahoe had a house, but it was never used for the series. The theme park is closed but the buildings are still there and maintained by the owner; they are used occasionally for special events.

  • CoDee says:

    They should have SKIPPED a week giving time to WRITE a good bye script for the final episode instead of JUST BEING happy with the mediocre episode the ended on ! That was DEFINITELY NOT The way for a SERIES LIKE BONANZA & a CLASSIC & LEDGENDS LIKE LOREN GREEN , MICHAEL LANDON & DAN BLOCKARD SHOULD HAVE BEEN SENT OUT FOR ALL THE WORLD TO REMEMBER THEM FOREVER BY ! PITFUL if u ask me ! High paying executive directors & they come up EPTY ! Poor Dan ! And the rest of the lead stars ! Pitiful & a let down !

  • Phil Esposito says:

    I watched when I was a kid and I watch today….could they bring back bonanza again….or a show like so that whole family could watch it….great show…..

  • Cheri morris says:

    Love, love the show. Wish we had more shows like that today. I still watch Bonanza every chance I get. Cheri Morris. 3-15-16

    • Mary says:

      We watch it every day, wish we could see the Bonanza Return

    • Carl says:

      The best Western there ever was on television. Good acting and story lines. They don’t make them like that anymore. NBC should have been more grateful to cast of the show by having a great finale show. Sorry they did not!

  • Roberta Williams says:

    We need moe wholesome shows like Bonanza … But, sadly those days are forever lost. The world has bent to far down. It actually hurts. No pun intended.

  • Chad says:

    Does anyone know the weekly ratings for Bonanza for this season? Or where it ranked for the season as a whole?

  • jon says:

    What an awful way for a show that gave the network so many good years to go out. Out of respect they should have played out the whole season. Could you imagine Cbs ending Ncis suddenly like this when it indeed does end sometime in the 2020s

  • Ron says:

    Um. You all know it was a fictional, highly idealized and unrealistic depiction of the old west, right?

    • Norman says:

      Yep! We all know that dude, but the show had something that we desperately need in this world today, morals.

      • Alison says:

        I agree..Yes, a little unrealistic, but it is very nice to watch the re runs..It was a simpler way of life, and a nice escapism of todays crap

  • Vivtor says:

    Would like to see a day where they showed the first episode to the last. Also that return to bonanza where Ben Johnson said he knew Ben Cartwright . That wasn’t right Ben Johnson was shot by little Joe in one episode as a bad deputy

  • jerry neff says:

    I grewup watching bonanza an my sons also I wish you all a peaceful rest thankyou for the memories

  • Al Hoove says:

    I was very young when “The Hunter” aired. I vividly remember chewing my nails as the tension built every time Tanner was heard whistling.”Frere Jacques”. Landon carried his part perfectly, as did the rest of the cast. The ending was as clever as any I’ve ever seen on TV. Great episode, perhaps the best of the whole series.

    • Kevin Grady says:

      Actually I thought it was more like The Twighr Zone then Bonanza. It was just a very strange show and one I would not have ended a legand on.

  • Jean savage/ texas says:

    Bonanza is a place I can retreat into and get out of the crazy world we live in now. Each character was unique and I couldn’t say which I loved the most. I’m so very thankful I can go on u tube and view these episodes over and over.I try not to think the dear four men are gone now. They will. Continue to bring laughter and tears to us as w go back in time to a better world.RIP

    • Alison says:

      I miss them too..Awesome show.I love all the old Westerns..Bonanza, The Virginian, Rawhide, Riffleman…you name them…I still watch them

  • Deann Yates says:

    I love,love,love Bonanza I was watching bonanza on August the13th 1972 when I was in labor with my daughter I will never forget it we watched every sunday night I am so happy I can watch it in reruns I loved all the men but Hoss was my favourite.My husband and I had the opportunity to go to the theme park in Lake Tahoe it was AWESOME we,ll never forget it, that was back in 1994 may Ben, Adam, Hoss , and Little Joe all R.I.P. and Thank You Guys for all the AWESOME MEMORIES of

  • Jean savage/ texas says:

    I still watch Bonanza daily.. what a great show.. I feel
    As though the Cartwright are still alive and they are on film forever.. don’t have a favorite as I loved them all. I really enjoyed Adam but also thought Candy was a great replacement and now he’s gone too. Many lessons to be learned from the characters/!Cartrights that would do good today. The scenery was always so beautiful. Gives me a peaceful feeling to watch the show.Oh yes I also liked HopSing and sheriff Roy as well.Wont be another like Bonanza-:(.

  • Joseph says:

    NBC should have let “Bonanza”‘s producers and cast do one final episode, even if it would have been a 90-minute special not airing until September (perhaps pre-empting “Mystery Movie” for a week, so the finale could’ve been broadcast in “Bonanza”‘s longtime Sunday-night timeslot).

  • John Wayne Peel says:

    Well, I found out that the answer to what network and what show made the series Bonanza ed. The answer is NO SHOW and NO NETWORK. The Producer’s did it, and they didn’t even CARE if there was an “ending episode.”

    Depressing and unfair.

    I watched the whole series in it first run and remember seeing one where Beau Bridges played a bespectacled guy who murdered a beautiful girl Joe wanted to marry.

    Was FAR better than Little Prayer on the Housie (my joke) and it deserved better.

  • Matt McCullar says:

    I just ran across something interesting. In Marc Cushman’s excellent book, _These are the Voyages_, the ultimate book about the original _Star Trek_ series, he mentions that during production of the final episode of _Star Trek_’s second season, called “Assignment: Earth,” the script had the Enterprise traveling back in time to Earth’s 1968. Gene Roddenberry wanted a scene in which the Enterprise would briefly see a TV show broadcast at that time: _Bonanza_. Both shows were on NBC, so why not?
    Great idea, and everyone at the network and both shows wanted to do it. But it didn’t happen. Why not? Because even a few seconds’ worth of _Bonanza_ showing on _Star Trek_ would have meant countless legal headaches. The unions for the writers, actors, directors, etc. would have demanded compensation, plus written releases from all involved. The additional expense and red tape made it too much to bear.

  • Edward says:

    If I had to choose a time, place and family other than my own, it would be as a fourth Cartwright son on the mighty Ponderosa in the 19th century.

  • russell fleenor says:

    NBC should’ve had more respect for the show and put some thought into writing a really good final episode that tied everything up, they probably could’ve had Adam finally come home too, it could’ve been great.

  • Joseph says:

    “Bonanza” probably could have survived either the death of Dan Blocker (if the show had stayed on Sunday nights) or the move to Tuesday nights (if Dan Blocker were still alive and part of the cast).

    But both of those things happening at once doomed the show.

  • Alison says:

    It is very sad reading how & why the show Bonanza did not continue. It wouldn’t have been the same without Hoss.I LOVED him & his character…Loved them all.Snd I still REALLY enjoy watching all the re runs…I wish too, that they could have went out with a Bang like Mr.Greene stated..It was a much simpler time, and makes me always smile. Too bad there are not shows like it,and other past Westerns on T.V. now a days

  • James says:

    Was there at the ponderous house we went in the house they showed where the cameras were at when they were filmed everything was like it was on the show it was great

Leave a Comment