‘Bonanza’: How Much Did the Iconic Western Cost Per Episode?

by Emily Morgan

From 1959 to 1973, “Bonanza” aired on NBC for 14 seasons and filmed over 400 episodes. Beloved by Western fans of all generations, the show became the network’s longest-running westerns and claimed the No.2 spot as the second-longest-running western series on American television, behind “Gunsmoke.”

Yet, it came with a price. During its fourteen-year run, the show more than doubled its production budget. Its first few seasons cost around $110,000 per episode but eventually skyrocketed to $225,000 by season fourteen, in today’s money, that comes in at $975,000 to $1.3 million.

Despite the high price tag that increased with each season, it’s remained an integral part of entertainment decades after taping new episodes. In 2002, TV Guide ranked the show as No. 43 on their “50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.” In 2013 TV Guide included it in its list of “The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time.”

The show also included a star-studded cast with talented actors such as Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, and Pernell Roberts. According to Blocker, who played the beloved character of Hoss Cartwright, filming was often lengthy and time-consuming.

Dan Blocker Revealed Details Behind Filming Process of ‘Bonanza’

Before he passed away, Blocker revealed that each episode of “Bonanza” took six days to film, but eight days total since the cast and crew had weekends off. If they started shooting on Monday, production would usually finish the episode by the following Monday. However, the cast and crew had little downtime— and usually began working on the next episode immediately after shooting the earlier one.

While many of today’s shows often include 12 episodes or fewer each season, “Bonanza” was different. During its run, the western usually averaged 30 episodes each season, adding to the production’s steep price tag.

The show also switched back and forth from filming on a Hollywood sound stage to filming near Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Shooting each season typically lasted 36-40 weeks.

While going back and forth between locations, the cast and crew had to commit to working long hours. Blocker added that he would typically arrive on set at 7 a.m. His day didn’t usually end until 8 or 9 p.m.

Even though shooting “Bonanza” was often a grueling process, it would prove to pay off in the long run. The legacy of the show remains nearly fifty years after filming new episodes. Along with its talented cast and crew, the show could tackle moral issues still highly relevant to this day.