‘Little House on the Prairie’: How Long Did an Episode Take to Film?

by John Jamison

Every television show is different. Whether it’s a long-form drama with episodes lasting an hour or a 30-minute situational comedy, no two are ever the same. “Little House on the Prairie” falls into the former camp. Most of the episodes run roughly 50 minutes long, not including commercial time. It raises the question, how long did it take to film 50 usable minutes for a given episode?

From 1974 to 1983, the Michael Landon-led Ingalls family entertained millions with their existence in the 19th-century midwest. While the show is based on the series of autobiographical books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, “Little House on the Prairie” doesn’t stick too closely to the source text. After all, they needed to make 200 hour-long episodes out of the material.

Alison Arngrim joined the show at the age of 13 in 1974. She played the role of the easily-disliked Nellie Oleson. As the first real villain of the show, Nellie and Laura Ingalls were constantly butting heads. Over time, Nellie grew into a more mature and likable character, but it took nearly 10 years. Spending all that time on the show, Arngrim has a valuable perspective on what it was like to film “Little House on the Prairie.”

She talked about how long it took to film a typical episode during a 2018 interview with From the Desk of Kurt Manwaring.

“A typical episode took about five to seven days to shoot, working Monday through Friday,” Arngrim said. “Some on location (Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley California) and some in the sound stage at the studio (Paramount Studios for the first few years, then MGM, now known as Sony). We’d usually start with the location scenes, since if anything is going to go wrong, it will most likely be the outdoor stuff.”

The Time Michael Landon Nearly Drowned Alison Arngrim on the Set of ‘Little on the Prairie’

Michael Landon was a seasoned television veteran by the time he moved from “Bonanza” onto “Little House on the Prairie. But in contrast to the time he spent on the “Bonanza” set, the “Little House” cast was full of kids.

Sometimes, Landon’s vision for a scene could clash with what one could realistically expect from a child actor. On one occasion, Landon nearly caused Alison Arngrim to drown.

“He did almost drown me… So I start chugging water, and I just couldn’t quite get it all down. And Michael says, ‘No, no, don’t cut. Fill her glass back up. Start again, keep rolling… You have to chug the whole thing. It’s too good, it’s too funny,” Arngrim told Pop Goes the Culture TV in 2014.

Apparently, Arngrim was waterboarding herself. She told Landon that she couldn’t chug the whole thing. But he insisted, and she ended up with a nose full of water. When everything was said and done, Arngrim hadn’t drowned, and she actually agreed with Landon about how funny the take was.