‘Bonanza’: Why Producer David Dortort Insisted Episodes Be a Full Hour Long

by John Jamison

David Dortort, the creator and producer of classic TV Western “Bonanza,” was ahead of his time. He knew what he had with the show and wanted to make sure it meant something more than pure entertainment.

Dortort insisted on an hour-long format so that he could fully flesh out Ben Cartwright’s character and his role in the family. According to Neatorama.com, it was important to Dortort that the father figure played by Lorne Greene be an example of a respectable dad.

This was so crucial to Dortort because the late 1950s were filled with half-hour comedies depicting fathers as bumbling men. These characters constantly needed to be set straight by their wives and weren’t good role models in his eyes. As a result, the producer felt a need to set ‘Bonanza’ apart from those sitcoms.

After all, the heart of his show was the relationship between a father and his sons. David Dortort felt that they needed an hour each episode to explore the dynamics of that relationship fully.

‘Bonanza’ Producer’s Vision For The Show Worked

In the end, he was spot on. As a result of the care Dortort and the cast took in the father-son aspect of the show, thousands of teens found an emotional outlet in ‘Bonanza.’ Accordingly, they wrote letters to Lorne Greene thanking him. They wished that he was their father.

Moreover, Lorne himself understood the significance of Ben Cartwright as a character. In a 1987 L.A. Times article, Lorne Greene is reported as saying, “A big reason for this show’s popularity is the strength and warmth of the family. The father-son relationship is the strongest there is.”

Not only did Lorne portray a father figure on screen, but he also became one on set. For instance, in an interview with the Archive of American Television, David Dortort noted how Michael Landon came from a dysfunctional family. He went on to describe how this informed the relationship between Landon and Greene.

“The most marvelous thing in the world to watch,” said Dortort, “were scenes between [Michael Landon] and Lorne Green. The compassion, and the understanding, and the love. You know, on a motion picture or television set, the crew have seen everything in the world, right? And yet they were struck silent by the relationship that developed between these two. Michael had found his father.”