On This Day: The First ‘Little House on the Prairie’ TV Movie Airs in 1974

by Madison Miller

On March 30, 1974, fans got their first-ever look at the “Little House on the Prairie” brought to life on the TV screen. The show aired with its two-hour-long movie pilot called “Little House on the Prairie: The Pilot.”

The show was based on a series of children’s books from Laura Ingalls Wilder. They are based on her own childhood growing up in the American midwest between 1870 and 1894. Melissa Gilbert plays her on the show.

Creating the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Pilot

NBC executive Ed Friendly, after being urged by his wife and daughter, decided to get the rights for both film and television for the novels.

From there, he asked Blanche Hanalis to write the teleplay for the show’s pilot. She received a “Developed For Television” credit in every episode of the series, although she only worked on the pilot. He also asked Michael Landon to direct the pilot. He agreed but said he would only do it if he got to play the father figure on the show, Charles Ingalls.

The show was picked up as a series after the pilot had generated enough positive viewership. The first episode appeared on NBC on September 11, 1974. It lasted for nine seasons. The show includes the pilot, 204 episodes, as well as several specials produced over the years.

The pilot features the Ingalls family as they move from Wisconsin to Kansas. Along the way, with the help of their neighbor Isaiah Edwards, the family is dealing with issues like storms, fires, and hostile groups.

Despite all the difficulty, they are eventually told by the government they must move from their location. The family again hits the road to seek a more permanent location. In the first episode of the series, the family ends up in Walnut Grove, which is where they will stay the majority of the show.

The pilot does not have the classic theme song from David Rose. It has a different theme song that later serves as a musical trope throughout the series.

Success and Popularity of the Pilot

In an interview with Sirius XM Broadway host Seth Rudetsky and producer James Wesley for their show “Stars in the House,” Melissa Gilbert mentioned that the pilot was her favorite episode of the show. “Stars in the House” helps to support The Actors Fund by featuring and interviewing different guests.

“I think that the pilot may be one of the most perfect films in its entirety that I’ve ever seen, certainly on television. I’ve watched it now from the eyes of an adult…the thing that really strikes me from the pilot of ‘Little House’ is how much silence there is. There are these long moments of us just driving or looking at each other or just being.” Gilbert said.

For those looking to watch the pilot on its anniversary, Amazon sells a DVD copy for $13.09. Those who have the streaming platform Peacock can also watch the pilot there.