Share Your Memories of Watching Bonanza

Share Your Memories is a monthly column that invites readers to contribute their recollections of what they watched on television and how they watched it. Topics range from obsolete equipment to network programming practices to specific TV shows and everything in between.

Cartwright Is The Name

I’m trying something different this month. Rather than ask readers to share their memories of technology relating to television, today’s column is about a specific TV show: NBC’s long-running Bonanza. Why Bonanza, you ask? It’s not obscure or forgotten and certainly not short-lived. The western ran for 431 episodes over the course of 14 seasons between 1959 and 1973. And from the very beginning, NBC broadcast Bonanza in living color.

The show’s longevity and popularity is why I chose Bonanza. If you’re a regular visitor to Television Obscurities, chances are you’ve seen at least a few episodes of Bonanza.

In keeping with the goal of Share Your Memories, I’m most interested in hearing from people who watched Bonanza during its 1959-1973 network run on NBC. But if you started watching it in off-network syndication (perhaps during the brief period when it aired under the name Ponderosa) or on cable, you’re more than welcome to contribute as well.

If you’re old enough to remember when Bonanza debuted in September 1959, what do you remember? It was one of two dozen westerns on television that fall. Did it stand out? It ranked outside the Top 30 during the 1959-1960 season, so it clearly wasn’t an immediate hit with viewers. NBC stuck with Bonanza and it soon became one of the most popular shows on TV.

Were you forced to watch in black and white because your family didn’t own a color TV set? One of just a handful of regular weekly TV shows airing in color, only a small percentage of viewers were able to see Bonanza in color, at least until the color explosion of the mid-1960s.

When Pernell Roberts left after the 1964-1965 season, were you upset? Do you recall reading about his departure in magazines or newspapers? Did you or anyone you know stop watching, unhappy that Adam was gone? Did you hate the new theme song used from 1970 to 1972? Do you remember learning Dirk Dan Blocker had died in May 1972? When Bonanza returned that fall, without Hoss, were you surprised? Were you devastated by NBC’s decision to abruptly cancel the series partway through the 1972-1973 season?

Scan of the front cover to Bonanza #25, a comic book published by Gold Key in 1967.
Cover to a Bonanza comic book published by Gold Key (#25, August 1967)
Copyright 1967 Gold Key/K.K. Publications, Inc.

What about Bonanza merchandise? There were comic books, novels, action figures, and much more. Did you beg your parents to buy you a Bonanza lunch box? Do you still have it?

Bonanza is not an obscure TV show. Far from it. Remember, I’m not asking to hear about your favorite character or favorite episodes. I’m curious to learn about your experience watching Bonanza, particularly if you watched during its original NBC run, and especially if you recall details about the network’s promotional efforts (TV, radio, print) from that period.

As for me, I watched a lot of Bonanza on TV Land back around 2005 or 2006. I think I’ve seen most episodes from the first five or six seasons and a smattering of later episodes, including the two-parter that kicked off the show’s 14th and final season. I vaguely remember seeing promotional spots for Ponderosa, the prequel that aired on PAX during the 2001-2002 season, but I didn’t watch it.

When did you watch Bonanza for the first time? When did you watch it in color for the first time? Do you know the lyrics to the theme song by heart? Hit the comments with your recollections and memories.

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7 Replies to “Share Your Memories of Watching Bonanza”

  1. I grew up out in the country, surrounded by so many hills that our rooftop TV antenna could only bring in one channel — the local NBC station — so we watched Bonanza on Sunday nights. I believe it was on from 9:00 – 10:00 p.m., and I wasn’t old enough to stay up that late until after Adam had left the Ponderosa, so I have no recollection of him.

    I tended to like the comedy episodes best. I suppose I liked the other episodes well enough, but it was basically a matter of watching Bonanza on Sunday night was what you did when NBC was your only available channel.

    I recall the big build up for the last season, Little Joe was going to get married. Wow, something new was finally going to happen on Bonanza. And then the new wife was murdered. I recall my mother’s disappointment at her being killed off, because a new character would have added some interest to the show.

    When the news came that Bonanza was being cancelled my reaction was to wonder what would replace it. (I don’t remember what show took its place.) I suppose I was a little sad because, over the years, I’d seen many amusing episodes, but I understood that the show had run out of ideas.

    Bonanza was a part of my childhood, but I don’t watch it in reruns.

  2. In 1972, NBC moved “Bonanza” from Sundays at 9 P.M. (ET/PT) to Tuesdays at 8 P.M. (ET/PT).

    That same year, co-star Dan Blocker passed away.

    I think “Bonanza” could have survived the move to Tuesdays if Dan Blocker hadn’t died; and likewise could have survived Blocker’s death if the show had remained in the Sunday-night timeslot.

    But both happening at once combined to kill the show.

  3. I think I saw a few episodes but I was never into the show. And they would have been during afternoon reruns.

    The Ponderosa spin-off would be an obscure show mostly because people weren’t watching PAX.

  4. When we were kids and would visit my grandparents in Jacksonville, Florida, there would be lots of noise and running around until “Bonanza” came on. Everything would stop. My grandfather, Archie Puldy, loved that show, and there had better not be a sound when he was watching that show. He was a hardworking man, and “Bonanza” was a great escape for him. I always felt that he thought of himself as Ben and the house was the Ponderosa. I wrote about my nervousness of making any sound when the show was on in my autobiography “Turbulence at 67 Inches”. I also liked that it was basically Jews on horseback like Star Trek was Jews in space. Michael Landon told the story that when they filmed the opening scene of them riding up to the camera and the director yelled “CUT!” they got off the horses and all you heard was “Oy! Oy!”

  5. It was Dan, not Dirk, Blocker who died in May 1972. Dirk Blocker, Dan’s son, was a teenager then and is very much alive today.

    While BONANZA was on tv until I was 7 1/2 years old, I don’t have any memory of seeing it on NBC primetime. It was probably on after my bedtime, which was 8 or 8:30 PM ET on school nights.

    I finally heard the later 1970-72 BONANZA theme some 5-10 years ago, when I first started watching the so-called “lost episodes”, and I love it. I like David Rose’s theme more than the standard Livingston/Evans theme. I love that Me-TV has started airing those “lost” episodes, including the NBC Peacock at the beginning and the NBC Snake at the end.

  6. I remember that it was my grandfather’s favorite show. I remember seeing it in the network run starting around 1970, but thinking it was kind of boring compared to “Gunsmoke”.

    I tried watching some of the episodes off-network on local stations in the mid-70s, including the pre-’65 episodes, and still thought the same thing about it.

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