Quarterly Bonanza Ratings, 1959-1969

Here’s something you don’t see very often. In its September 22nd, 1969 issue, Broadcasting listed the quarterly ratings for NBC’s Bonanza from the start of the series in 1959 through the first half of 1969. Rarely is it possible to chart the growth — and decline — of a successful series. Unfortunately, I don’t have the quarterly numbers for the last few seasons of Bonanza when the show began to really slide in the ratings.

Note the dip every third quarter during the summer when the show was in repeats. And note also that Bonanza was at the height of its popularity during the first quarter of 1964 when it averaged an astounding 39.7 Nielsen rating and a 58 share. Perhaps most interesting is the drop in the ratings beginning in 1967. Yet despite this drop, Bonanza was still a powerhouse, ranking 4th during the 1967-1968 season and 3rd during the 1968-1969 and 1969-1970 seasons.

Season Quarter Rating/Share
1959 4 19.9/32
1960 1 22.7/34
  2 17.8/34
  3 14.8/36
  4 23.7/39
1961 1 25.8/39
  2 20.3/39
  3 13.7/33
  4 29.5/46
1962 1 31.7/47
  2 26.4/43
  3 22.5/42
  4 28.5/44
1963 1 30.1/44
  2 28.6/49
  3 23.1/42
  4 34.2/52
1964 1 39.7/58
  2 33.1/57
  3 28.4/52
  4 34.6/61
1965 1 37.7/54
  2 33.7/58
  3 25.3/48
  4 32.0/49
1966 1 31.9/47
  2 27.6/47
  3 22.3/42
  4 32.0/49
1967 1 28.1/41
  2 23.4/39
  3 23.1/42
  4 25.9/38
1968 1 25.2/37
  2 23.6/40
  3 22.0/39
  4 25.4/38
1969 1 28.1/42
  2 23.0/39

If only this sort of information were available for other successful, long-running programs.

Sources: 1 “‘Bonanza’s’ Ratings — Quarter-By-Quarter.” Broadcasting. 22 Sep. 1969: 63.

1 Comment

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Keep in mind that “BONANZA” was originally scheduled on Saturday nights [7:30-8:30pm(et)] during its first two seasons, primarily as a vehicle to help sell RCA Victor color TV sets [in fact, RCA was the series’ primary sponsor between 1959 and ’61]- the idea was to have RCA Victor dealers tune their showroom’s TV sets to the NBC affiliate in their area carrying “BONANZA” on Saturday nights, so that customers could see for themselves how “colorful” the show looked on the latest RCA Victor models they were “pushing”. Considering the fact that CBS’ “PERRY MASON” was directly opposite “BONANZA” during that period, it’s surprising it got the audience it earned.

    In the fall of 1961, Chevrolet “bought” the show to replace “THE DINAH SHORE CHEVY SHOW” on Sundays (after she terminated her contract with them the previous summer). This is when “BONANZA” “took off”. Perhaps most viewers finally “tired” of “GENERAL ELECTRIC THEATER” at 9pm(et), after watching “THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW”, by late 1961, and switched to “BONANZA” instead {“WALT DISNEY’S WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR”, which ended a half-hour before it came on, followed by “CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?”, may have been another factor}.
    Jack Benny himself discovered this when he was home one Sunday evening in late ’61- he decided to tune in to see what “BONANZA” was all about. He became so engrossed in the episode he was watching, he almost forgot to tune in his OWN show at 9:30 {8:30 Pacific Time}. He noticed he finally switched channels at 9:50 {8:50}. Jack later recalled that was when he knew that if HE could become so involved in watching “BONANZA” to almost miss his own program, what chance did it have with other viewers? “I knew I was through”, he sadly concluded. CBS realized this, and moved Jack to Tuesday nights at 9:30 in the fall of ’62, where it flourished following “THE RED SKELTON HOUR”.

    Not even “THE JUDY GARLAND SHOW” on CBS could make a dent in “BONANZA”‘s ratings in the 1963-’64 season (which were among the highest it ever got). “MY LIVING DOLL” and “THE JOEY BISHOP SHOW”, CBS’s “competition” for the 1964-’65 season, didn’t even stick around long enough on Sundays to let viewers know they were the “alternative” to “BONANZA” (what was Jim Aubrey THINKING???). William Shatner’s “FOR THE PEOPLE” and repeats of the hour-long 1963 “TWILIGHT ZONE” episodes filled out the rest of that season. “PERRY MASON” was scheduled opposite them again for 1965-’66, and it managed to hold it own until the network decided not to renew it for another season. Then came “THE {New Improved} GARRY MOORE SHOW” in the fall of ’66- but no one really wanted to see him again, and he never headlined another prime-time series again.

    When “THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR” premiered on CBS in February 1967, they quickly got the “young alternative” audience that really wasn’t interested in seeing “BONANZA”…and the overall ratings for it were never the same after that.

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