‘Little House on the Prairie’: How the Show Helped Invent the NFL’s Skycam

by Madison Miller

It’s hard to imagine a connection between a TV show that is set in the late 1800s and an NFL Skycam. However, the classic drama show, “Little House on the Prairie,” had someone working on a set that would soon invent the staple Steadicam and the Skycam.

‘Little House on the Prairie’ and Steadicam

According to IMDb, Garrett Brown was working on one episode of “Little House on the Prairie.”

He was talking to former NFL player Merlin Olsen in between filming scenes. Olsen played 15 years in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams as a defensive tackle. He also played a farmer named Jonathan Garvey, Michael Landon’s sidekick, for several years on the show.

While Brown and Olsen were chatting, Olsen mentioned that he thought that there were many faults in how television covered football. He said that the static stationary cameras on ground level failed to capture the overall speed, positioning, and flow of football to those watching.

Brown kept this conversation from the set of “Little House on the Prairie” in mind when he invented the Skycam. The camera is a floating hydraulic system. Instead of being stationary, it flies above the stadium and the players on the field. It provides an overhead shot and a wider view of the game.

Now, this is a staple in watching different live sporting events that take place on a larger field. It allows viewers to see everything that’s going on at once in one cohesive image.

The Skycam was publicly introduced in 1984. It was used during a preseason NFL game in San Diego between the Chargers and the 49ers.

According to Garrett Brown’s official biography, he is an Oscar-winning inventor because of his Steadicam creation. It has been the central recording device for legendary movies like “Rocky,” “Bound for Glory,” and “Return of the Jedi.”

Filming for the Classic Show

The show was set in rural Minnesota. However, it was actually filmed on the Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, California. The soundstage was at the Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank.

According to Mental Floss, a big part of the filming process during “Little House on the Prairie” was to make sure that costumes and sets were reminiscent of the time period. Characters were often dressed in heavy cotton stockings, thick petticoats, bonnets, and other elaborate clothing.

This would actually be an issue for some of the actors on set. For example, sometimes temperatures in the area could reach 100 degrees. Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson, actually passed out from the heat. An assistant director also fainted on set from the heavy clothing and extreme heat.