HomeEntertainment‘Bonanza’ Had a Failed Prequel Series in the Early 2000s: What to Know About ‘Ponderosa’

‘Bonanza’ Had a Failed Prequel Series in the Early 2000s: What to Know About ‘Ponderosa’

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credit: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

The Cartwright family may have ridden off into the sunset in 1973. But there have been several attempts to resurrect “Bonanza” over the years, including a prequel series. “Ponderosa” aired in the early 2000s as a failed attempt at showing the early adventures of the Cartwrights.

Trying to resurrect the property almost 30 years after it went off the air was a fool’s errand. The show picked up in the lives of the Cartwrights 10 years before “Bonanza.” The show introduces audiences to a young Ben Cartwright and his teenage sons.

They aren’t quite the men they would become. And the fact they’re played by new actors makes it difficult to view them as the same characters. Daniel Hugh Kelly stepped in for the late Lorne Greene in the main role of Ben Cartwright. Matt Carmody, Drew Powell, and Jared Daperis play his three sons Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe.

The show followed the Cartwrights as they strike out to the Territory of Nevada in 1849. Unlike “Bonanza,” “Ponderosa” takes its title from the Cartwrights’ famous Ponderosa ranch. The show was an entirely different beast than the original western. Whereas the original featured gunfights and brawls, the prequel was more of a family drama instead. After all, half of its cast was still young.

The ‘Bonanza’ Prequel Gets Canceled

Interestingly, the prequel was created by original “Bonanza” creator David Dortort. Dortort had been the creative force behind the original’s 14 seasons. Dortort wanted to resurrect the property for Pax TV in 2001. Serving as producer, he passed the creative buck Beth Sullivan to oversee the series. Sullivan was best known for her work on “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” at the time. As a result, the show differed creatively from the original “Bonanza.”

“Ponderosa” aired for only one season on the network between 2001 and 2002. Sullivan had wanted to film the series in Los Angeles and the surrounding area. But the network decided that Australia would be better suited, due to low production costs. Despite trying to keep the cost low, “Ponderosa” failed to launch upon release. It struggled in the ratings department, its disappointing reception not helped by the still high production price.

So, the Cartwright family once again said goodbye. And for many, the prequel was largely forgotten. But for “Bonanza” fans, the DVD collection has become a bit of a collector’s item. It can be hard to find and fetches a high price tag. For instance, on Amazon, it currently costs $159.