‘Bonanza’ Was Given a Two-Part Shoutout in Early Episode of ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent’

by Mark Long

Everybody loves an inside joke or reference, and that holds true for television writers too. One example occurred in a first-season episode of ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent’ which references the classic Western television series ‘Bonanza.’

The episode title, ‘Homo Homini Lupus,’ is Latin for “Man is wolf to man.” It refers to situations where people behave toward others like a wolf: predatory and dangerous.

In this episode, a woman reports her daughter and two granddaughters were kidnapped. After being found, however, they deny it. It turns out the daughter’s husband owed money to a loan shark, who uses a “collector” to kidnap debtors’ family members to “encourage” them to pay. Plus, one of the granddaughters may have been sexually assaulted, which is also causing the family not to talk.

The collector is Simon Matic, a former Serbian soldier, who likes people to call him “Little Joe.” At one point, joking around with him, Detective Robert Goren says, “‘Bonanza? What a funny guy!'”

Later, Goren follows him into a restaurant and tracks Matic down after calling him because his ringtone is the ‘Bonanza’ theme song.

Why reference ‘Bonanza’ here? Matic sees himself as an outlaw and finds Wild West mythology alluring. The irony is, of course, that the Cartwright family stands for law and order. The same is true for the original ‘Law & Order’ series and its spinoffs.

Canadian Rene Balcer wrote this episode, which he later remade for the French version of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” In that episode, however, he used a different ringtone.

Other ‘Bonanza’ References

References to ‘Bonanza,’ which ran for 14 seasons, have appeared in a variety of films and shows. The first time was in the 1961 movie ‘The Errand Boy,’ where Jerry Lewis runs into the Cartwrights dismounting their horses on a movie studio backlot.

More recently, ‘The Simpsons’ spoofed the burning map from the opening to ‘Bonanza’ in at least six episodes. Other shows incorporating ‘Bonanza’ elements include ‘Roseanne,’ ‘Seinfeld,’ and ‘Frasier.’

Writers like to reward eagle-eyed viewers and often include obscure pop culture references. The next time you’re watching your favorite television shows, see if you can identify some of your own.