The way it airs in syndication on TV, it feels like the western “Bonanza” never ends. The adventures of the Cartwright family continue cycling, immortalized in the celluloid of TV history. But the end of the show was very real for the cast and crew.
Ask anyone and their grandpa, and it’s a toss-up between “Bonanza” or “Gunsmoke” for the greatest TV western. Perhaps, “The Rifleman” also makes a case for a close third. For 14 years, audiences became entranced with the Cartwright family during their adventures in the Old West.
All that came to a screeching halt in 1973. The show was abruptly canceled amid falling ratings. NBC informed the cast and crew shortly before they finished their 14th season finale. They didn’t have time to properly write a finale, hastily creating an ending to close the show. Just two days after the announcement, the show and 14 years were over.
Lorne Green, who played patriarch Ben Cartwright, regretted the decision and not being able to end on their terms.
“If we had known this was coming, we would have gone out with a bang and not a whimper,” Greene said, according to Mental Floss. “I was rather surprised NBC renewed the show after Dan died, but since they did, I would have liked to see them play out the year.”
Bonanza’s Star Dies
Despite the abrupt nature, the writing was on the wall going into its 14th season. “Bonanza” lost its heart and soul when Dan Blocker died. The actor portrayed Hoss Cartwright on the TV show for 13 seasons. Originally, the show planned to focus on Hoss’s wife getting murdered and the fallout.
But prior to the new season, Blocker died of a pulmonary embolism after having gall bladder surgery. His death shook the cast and crew and derailed plans for the season. Additionally, NBC moved the show to a difficult time slot that saw its ratings drop significantly.
“After Dan’s death, I didn’t see how the show could continue,” Greene said. “I said to my wife, ‘That’s it. It’s finished.’”
In response to Blocker’s death, the producers decided to kill Hoss off in a car crash. They wanted to give the characters a chance to mourn along with the audience. Blocker’s death along with a combination of things caused the show to end in a less than ideal way.