Do you ever wonder where the phrase “ghost town” originated? While you may have said it plenty of times, it comes from the classic western genre of the ’60s and ’70s. In fact, “Bonanza” once crossed over genres when it featured horror elements from a show of the same era.
The Cartwright family made their debut to the world in 1959, merely weeks apart from another show: “The Twilight Zone.” That show featured a new story each week, often delving into horror, supernatural, and science fiction. While the shows couldn’t be more different stylistically, those over at the Ponderosa ranch once paid tribute to the supernatural anthology.
According to MeTV, in season five, in an episode called the “Twilight Town,” Little Joe Cartwright hits his head after running into an outlaw and passes out alone in the desert. After he wakes up, he comes upon a ghost town and passes out in the street.
‘Bonanza’ Blurs the Lines of Western Genre With ‘Twilight Town’
If you couldn’t tell, the episode’s title is a direct homage to “The Twilight Zone.” After he wakes up, Little Joe learns that he’s in a place called “Martinville.”By the end of the episode, Little Joe gets revenge on the outlaw who knocked him unconscious with help from the ghost town’s inhabitants. The show’s climax comes to a head when the outlaw and Little Joe get into a shootout, and Joe collapses once again. When he wakes up, he sees his father and brothers. Later, he explains that the townspeople helped him get out of trouble. “What town,” Ben asks Joe, to which the viewers and Little Joe question if the town—or the people— even existed.
“Where is everybody?” Joe asks his pa. If you didn’t know, that line is a direct callback to the debut episode of “The Twilight Zone,” titled “Where Is Everybody,” the episode which aired a few weeks after the debut of “Bonanza.”
The writer behind “Twilight Town” was Cy Chermak. And it was his only “Bonanza” credit per IMDB. Later, Chermak produced the ABC mystery thriller “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” further diving into the world of the supernatural.
Chermak also served as an executive producer on the drama, “Ironside” from 1967-1974. For his work on the show, he received three Emmy Award nominations for “Outstanding Drama Series.” Some of his other producing credits include “Amy Prentiss,” “Barbary Coast” and “Murder at the World Series.” Chermak passed away on January 29, 2021, in Hawaii at the age of 91.