top of page

The Complete Series        review by Drusilla Blakey


I've previously written about how my grandmother and I would watch the number one western TV series, Gunsmoke (aka Smokey Gun).  Guess what, we also watch the number two western TV series - Bonanza (aka Ponderosa or Little Joe). Bonanza premiered on NBC on September 12, 1959 and it was the first prime time series to be filmed and produced in color. It ran for 14 seasons with a total of 431 episodes.


Bonanza follows the Cartwrights' one-thousand-square-mile Ponderosa Ranch that is located near Virginia City, Nevada, site of the Comstock Silver Lode, during and after the Civil War. Each of the three sons was born to a different wife of Ben's; none of the mothers are still alive. Adventures are typical Western ones, with lots of personal relationships/problems thrown in as well.


As a child, I was enthralled with watching these cowboys ride their horses and work the ranch. The sets and costumes were amazing and with the show being in color, you could see the amazing details and effort that went into every aspect of the show, even the set design. As I got a little bit older, I began to understand the complexities of this blended family coming together to work hard, support each other and stick together through whatever difficult issue came up during that episode.  


The series also tackled difficult issues for its time (the 60s) facing head on the topics of discrimination and racism with characters passing through the ranch in need of help and/or the moral and ethical compass that the Cartwright family provided. Immigrants from Europe, Russian, Canada passed through and even issues more close to home such as Native Americans, African Americans and women seeking justice had their stories show up live and in color for the American public to see.  Lorne Greene, who portrayed the family's patriarch, Ben Cartwright, said “It’s a show that dealt with people as people might be dealt with.” They didn't shy away from difficult subject matter, and they made many groups feel seen and heard.


This doesn't mean, however, that the show did not have its own share of controversy.  One of my favorite characters, Adam Cartwright, portrayed by Pernell Roberts, (who would later go on to star in his own series Trapper John M.D. from the late 70s well into the 80s) left the show at its height of popularity after Season 6. He stated in interviews that although he was happy the show dealt with these topics, he didn't like that they would sometimes use 'white actors' and put them in dark makeup instead of hiring actual actors of color.  He was asked if he ever regret his decision to leave and famously said "God no! I'm sorry I wasn't able to get out of my contract and leave sooner."


My family's favorite character was Little Joe, played by Michael Landon (who would later go on and famously lead Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven). My grandmother would always say "aye Little Joe!" hahaha We were so invested in his life on the ranch and how as the little brother, he was sometimes treated unfairly or would get himself into trouble and have to figure his way out. To this day, if I catch an episode on TV I'll wonder what mess Little Joe is getting into this time.


Besides the series regulars, many popular TV stars of the time made guest appearances throughout the run of the show. (For example, nearly all the stars of Star Trek made an appearance, as well as actors from the Batman TV show.) That's why this special series release is a must see.


This release not only features all 14 seasons of the series, but bonus content including interviews, blooper/gag reel, public service announcements, featurettes and so much more. Return to the Ponderosa and grab your copy of Bonanza: The Complete Series available now from Paramount Home Entertainment.

bottom of page