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.


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.

Related Posts

Become a Patron Today

Are you a fan of obscure television? Please support Television Obscurities on Patreon by becoming a patron today.

88 Replies to “Bonanza’s Sudden Cancellation”

  1. 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

    1. The way Adam left the show was awful! He didn’t so much as say Goodbye to anyone! My respect for him is gone forever

      1. Presumably, Roberts had no control of the last few Adam scripts. He was considered a malcontent by producer/creator Dortort and Landon (who would make occasional comments to that affect). A very good singer and a B+ actor, Dortort said on-tape that Roberts felt that he was shackling his burgeoning career. I will say that I liked Adam, but the stories really got better as the post-Adam years went-on. David Canary (who won 5 Emmys apart from the series) was a real plus, and the stories/ scripts far better.

      2. The writers are to blame for not writing his departure; not the actor. Much respect to Mr. Roberts!

  2. 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…

    1. 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.

      1. Ponderosa Ranch As a Filming Site. … The fictitious Cartwright family lived on the Ponderosa Ranch near Lake Tahoe, and parts of Bonanza were filmed on its shores. The famous opening scene of Bonanza was filmed on location at North Lake Tahoe near Incline Village.Apr 17, 2018

      2. It’s ALL Gone, nothing left,,, leveled by David “The Destroyer” Duffield,, in which to make a quick buck.

      3. The cartwright family were stuck up Ben cartwright acted like he was better then everybody the show also hated woman even Matt dillion had a girl friend Steve

    2. So sad. Wanted to get there (theme park ranch house), especially during its last year- 2014. There is a few short clips of David Canary, as a grey-haired Candy, there in 2008 (for ION). One can still find a tape/DVD of a tour of the grounds. But alas, it was too homey for succeeding generations.

      1. Presumably, Roberts had no control of the last few Adam scripts. He was considered a malcontent by producer/creator Dortort and Landon (who would make occasional comments to that affect). A very good singer and a B+ actor, Dortort said on-tape that Roberts felt that he was shackling his burgeoning career. I will say that I liked Adam, but the stories really got better as the post-Adam years went-on. David Canary (who won 5 Emmys apart from the series) was a real plus, and the stories/ scripts far better.

    3. Unless something drastic has happened, the ponderosa is still safe and sound. The 600 acre ranch is located 35 miles southwest of Reno via Highway 28. It was purchased by billionaire software entrepreneur David Duffield. Lorne Greene built his own home in Mesa, Arizona and called it Ponderosa 11.
      It has been sold several times through the years but still exists as far as I know.

  3. 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 !

    1. Totally agree! I was devastated when Dan died But the way Adam left the show was awful he didn’t even have the respect for his fellow actors to say Goodbye or anything! I no longer have any respect for him as a person! I adored the rest of the actors and followed their careers and enjoyed the show’s they were on.

      1. Dortort, and others have said Roberts was a bit of an ego-centric. guy He did sing better than the rest, Not so with acting (overplayed the Lee Marvin episode). Blocker was super, Canary was super. The same w Landon and Greene. Wish they’d have expanded Sen-Yung’s role, assimilated him more bit by bit. Loved the Landon-written episode where Hop Sing wants to marry a white woman by can’t. Spoke w Landon and Greene and wrote to Landon and Canary. All were very cordial. Wrote to Roberts and …. nothing. Roberts did work w a super talent on Trapper-John MD. Brian Stokes Mitchell, who played Jackpot, is one of te best stage singer/ actors of the past 50 years. Check him-out!

  4. 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…..

  5. 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

    1. 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!

      1. Whilst i comierate with you on the demise of Bonanza, it became too sugary sweet and predictable as the years weent by, not forgetting the god awful ranch set, exactly like a theatre stage where horse and buggy entered staged right and exited stage left!! AND the terrible echo sound when dialogue was spoken on that set. No, it never was vthe best tv western, that was The Virginian ….bar none

      2. I loved the show when I was a kid and still watch it on Fox I am now in my early 60’s and still love the re runs .The show displayed great principles and integrity , true morals and values . Just a truely good show missed by a genuine admirer

  6. 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.

      1. Yes that’s true, Highway to Heaven was created for Michael Landon as i vision no one else but him in that role. As I’ve watched a few interviews of him i concluded Mr. Landon was a spirtual man. God rest his soul.

    1. You are so right. The days of good TV with no smut in them are gone. Every thing now seems to be based on SEX!!!

      1. I watched this show from the time I was 5, now in my 6os. I was obsessed, couldn’t get enough. In my teens I fell in love with Michael Landon and thirsted for any Hollywood news about him. Lorne Greene was a neighbor of my childhood neighbors in Ottawa. He always reminded me of my father, looked like him, same background. I was a little girl, watching westerns, but bonanza was different, very special. Now as an adult, I discovered the old shows playing on YouTube and am once more obsessed. I even travelled to mesa to see Lorne Greene’s replica house, rang the doorbell. I discovered there is a fan club and intend to join it. Went to lake Tahoe few years ago to feel like I was in the show. I was si sad in 1973 when it was cancelled. I was shocked to learn there are others who are such fans, didn’t think anyone could possibly be a bigger fan than me.

    2. I feel the same. I’m 56 and remember every episode. There were disappointments in the show especially when Joe’s wife was murdered and of course the death of Dan Blocker.

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

  8. 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

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

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

      1. 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

      2. Definitely! With the swamp in Washington and Trump’s immoral corruption and lies, it would be refreshing to see morals at least on tv.

      3. JD W. You had some high nerve speaking of President Trump that way after engineering the greatest political scandal in American history with your Russia hoax and then stealing a Presidential election. Thanks for that Afghan catastrophe, by the way. And inflation.

      4. Yeah. It was a fantasy, but a lot of Hollywood movies and TV series were. Example: lots of Cowboys were Black, yet this was never shown on TV or movies, nor from great directors like Hawks and Ford, so, most of these productions were cartoons.

    2. Of course. But u do realize 90% of TV shows today too are unrealistic? Cop shows with all looking like models. None over 45 or overweight. TV has always been unrealistic.

      1. True, but being unrealistic by presenting good looking models in a western movie/TV series AND not presenting accurate representation historically… racially, are two counts of fantasy, and too unrealistic for me. At least cop shows today present many people of color. Sure, you can excuse it away by claiming it was the sign of the times back then, but that was the decision made and the future has the right to judge that unfair and inaccurate decision and presentation.

  10. 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

  11. 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.

    1. 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.

  12. 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

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

      1. I watch them everyday .when little joe marred alice the story fore ever and they were going to havr a ba y and they were burned up in house fire. So sad.t

  13. 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

  14. 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-:(.

  15. 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).

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. “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.

  21. 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

  22. 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

    1. I agree with you comment about the house fire. It is just too sad. I watched it once and don’t want to see it again.Poor Joe with his terrible loss! Too sad for me.

  23. It’s just sad and wrong (and it just shows the producers obviously did not have any foresight … or care about the loyal fans) they couldn’t have gave them a little time to write a good ending and give some closure.

    They could have had a great ending and went out with a bang!

    It was a great old show. They sure don’t make them like that anymore! My favorites are the lighter ones, but I still enjoy most all of them.

  24. I still watch every day and love those Cartwrights best western series gone are those days but thank God we have the old films never forgotten Bonanza ❤️

  25. The cast themselves should have seen that the end was coming. The series longtime sponsor: Chevrolet, had pulled out and the very popular Dan Blocker had died. The truth is both the network and the producers only cared about ratings, so I suspect a wrap-up episode would have never crossed their minds.

  26. Until about 1977, most long running shows went off the air with very little fanfare and no elaborate, sentimental finale….I say 1977 because that was the year of the finale of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, which was one of the first. Up until that time, when a popular, long running show went off, it was considered to have just ended its run on TV, and that was it. The viewing audience has gotten used to finales and forgotten this earlier concept. Also, many popular shows have either ended abruptly or as the result of such
    actions as the “Rural Purge” of 1971; you can read about that on Wikipedia

  27. If I’m at home during the afternoon I will watch The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie and then Bonanza. I think because those times represent something we are lacking today in this world. Peaceful, simple days and family togetherness. I think down deep inside that’s what we all yearn for and maybe that’s why we watch. I will continue to watch as long as they are on. Little House just started over again with them leaving their home and heading out for new opportunities. Watched “Country Girls” last night. LOL That Nellie…one in every bunch.

  28. I used to watch this show every Sunday with my Grandmother in our den. She would announce that Bonanza was coming on, I’d stop whatever it was I was doing and watch it with her. My Mother would pass the door looking in with a smile. That was our time together. I Love and Hold Tight to those memories. WE LOVED that show and OUR time together. Gone NEVER FORGOTTEN

  29. When bonanza came aired on Sunday nights it felt like not only did the family come together to watch but the whole country. I loved all the cast members but my favorite was Candy (.David Canary) who recently passed.

  30. In those days shows were not treasured or valued the way they are today. well I guess I could say in some respects still some shows are not given the great treatment they deserved. It’s so sad that there is no real ending for it but Bonanza is a great show I’ve been watching season 1 online and I’m discovering a whole lot of things about it as an adult and then I never noticed as it as a kid; Star Trek got the same treatment as well, made the network a lot of money but the shows never get the support that they really truly need it at the time. It’s a shame, really. And I lovedDavid Canary on the show as well.

  31. I continue to watch each and every episode of Bonanza that Is aired, as much and as often as I can.
    Watching each episode as if for the first time. The death of Dan Blocker to this day continues to bring a tear to me at certain times. I always admired the Cartwright family as a child, and to date.
    I will always continue to watch.

    J. Fernandez

  32. I have watched Bonanza since I was a little girl. We need more shows like this. Honest and wholesome. Sad they never had a farewell episode. I was able to go see the ranch in Tahoe California. Best time ever

  33. Alma Feb 2020 I grew up in N Ireland watching Bonanza taking a walk in the country afterwards and imagining the fields and hills around were the Pondarosa and the Cartwrights would ride over them to me!!!
    I am in Australia now and still watch the re-runs. Wonderful programme with moral stories and the most wonderful men as actors and people.
    So sad to know they all have passed and some at early ages! Rest in Peace
    We will never see the like again

  34. It’s ALL Gone, nothing left at Lake Tahoe,,, leveled by David “The Destroyer” Duffield,, in which to make a quick buck.

    1. My wife and were married at the Ponderosa back on 09-29-2002, as I recall. What a cool way to tie the knot!
      What a downer it was a couple of years later when we heard the place was closed down, and most of the property was sold for “improvement” and development. At that point Tahoe seated to be my “Heaven on Earth”.
      But thanks to Ben and the Boys for all the happy memories! Rest in piece!


  35. Smartphones…. yeah, RIGHT!
    Sorry for those typos caused by my iPhone!

    But, after the closure and the sell off of the Ponderosa, my beloved Lake Tahoe was no longer my “Heaven on Earth”

    But still…. after being married there, they were all great memories, both on TV and at the ranch…. it has been missed!


  36. I am so thankful for all the wonderful memories the 4 Cartwrights left for us. They were amazing, very professional actors. I fell in love with the entire cast of “Bonanza” when I was a little girl. All of them were so memorable, but I admired Mr. Lorne Greene’s fatherly character role he played. My own father left us for the last time when I was 2, so, it was pretty cool being able to see how a good fatherly image was like with his Cartwright sons. I knew it was just a movie, but it was still pretty nice.
    I still watch their rerun shows nearly every single day, plus “Highway To Heaven”. Real life of today needs the peacefulness & joy we got with “Bonanza’s” movies.
    In my entire life, & growing up in an orphanage, I had never felt the love of family & togetherness like I would get to feel when “Bonanza” would come on. All the Home kids & all the people I knew just waited faithfully for “Bonanza” to come on with the 4 Cartwrights riding through those gorgeous mountain fields while we could hear their theme song playing. I cry sometimes during the reruns when it occurs to me the 4 of the Cartwrights are dead & gone from us, forever. It’s so sad. I am truly looking forward to when we can see them up in heaven some bright & lovely day. I pray we all will. May they all RIP & I am so thankful I got to grow up with Bonanza. I’m blessed that on my ROKU I can also watch them anytime I turn the tv on.

  37. I just love Bonanza, I watched it on METV everyday, I even have a scrap book and have lots of pictures from different episodes.

  38. Some say the REAL beginning of the end for “Bonanza” came when after the ’70-71 season N.B.C. cancelled the revamped version of “The Virginian” (“The Men From Shiloh”) and when “Bonanza” producer David Dortort decided to end production of “The High Chapparal” (Dortort was asked to return to “Bonanza” when “The High Chapparal” was cancelled, but decided to retire instead) because of the “rural purge” that already came in effect when C.B.S. cancelled all of their rural series, because “Bonanza” was already in a ratings slump in its 12th season.

  39. I cry sometimes, knowing that they are all dead. I like watching shows as search, to better raise my grandkids. When I was small and of course I didn’t want others to take my boyfriend. Hoss was my man. Adam and little Joe was for the other girls and Ben was our father. Every Sunday at 7pm after Mickey Mouse movie on NBC network. In 2002 I went to Lake Tahoe , was I surprised….yes …I was again a cry baby.

  40. Watching “Forever” right now. The mention of Hoss when Joe brings Alice to ‘their happy place’…. wow… really pulls on the heart strings…
    Bonanza may not have been ‘the real West’ but for those of us who grew up with the show it was a wish dream of times past and very real people who are dearly missed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.