‘Bonanza’: Final Episode of the Series Aired Today in 1973

by Madison Miller
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If you’re a fan of Westerns, odds are the hit show “Bonanza” is sure to be something memorable.

This NBC program aired from September 12, 1959, to January 16, 1973. The hit Western was on for 14 seasons and is the second-longest-running Western on U.S. network television. It is also ranked as No.43 on TV Guide’s list of the 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.

Today is the 48-year anniversary of the very last episode of “Bonanza.”

Fans were forced to say goodbye to some of their favorite actors like Lorne Green, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker, and Michael Landon. Now, there are no surviving members of the cast.

Plot of ‘Bonanza’

What did the hit show have to talk about for 14 seasons on popular television?

The show was known for addressing some pretty important and pressing moral dilemmas.

It centers around the Cartwright family. This is a wealthy family who lives in Virginia City, Nevada. The patriarch of the family is Ben Cartwright, who has three sons from three different wives.

This was Adam, Eric, and Joseph. Each had his own distinct roles and attitudes. Joseph, or “Little Joe” is best described as a hothead where Eric is lovable and kind. Together, the family lives on a ranch called the Ponderosa.

Ray Evans’ ‘Bonanza’

“Bonanza” has one of the most recognizable theme songs on television. The theme song shares the name of the show.

Ray Evans and Jay Livingston perform the song. David Rose orchestrated the song and Billy May adapted it for the television theme song.

The show opens with the Western, campy-styled song and a map of the Ponderosa going up in flames and the Cartwright’s on galloping horses. There are several versions of the song, but the show has the instrumental version.

Other artists have recreated the song including Marty Gold, Billy Vaughn, Lorne Greene, Johnny Cash, and Nelson Riddle. Johnny Cash was the first to make it into a full-length vocal version. It appears on his album, “Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash.”

Social Issues Addressed

Unlike other weekly shows, “Bonanza” had something new to offer. Each week, the show delved into the struggles and real life of the family. It was more than a comedic representation of a group of people.

According to American Profile, the show was nearly canceled after its first year. It was kept around because it was filmed in color and that was considered a “novelty.” NBC and its partner company, RCA, used the show as a pawn to sell more TV sets.

The show tackled issues like racism, prejudice, and social injustice, themes that were less widely-acknowledged during that time period.

“Another thing about Bonanza that is interesting is that it was a period drama, but it attempted to confront contemporary social issues. That was very difficult to do on television. Most shows that tried to do it failed because the sponsors didn’t like it and the networks were nervous about getting letters. Bonanza, because it was set in the West at a different time, was able to do issue-oriented stories,” Stephen Battaglio, a senior editor for TV Guide magazine said.

The last surviving member of the hit NBC show was Pernell Roberts until he passed away in January 2010 at the age of 81.

The show is on cable television in the form of reruns.

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