Bonanza: Syndication History
The year was 1970. The series was just starting its twelfth season of airplay and was the biggest hit on the air. David Dortort and NBC decided it would only be a matter of time until they syndicated the series on the network and for independent television stations in North America. The decision came about because of the high quality and ratings of the stories they had achieved so greatly.
The potential to cash in on the syndication market and make a fortune with the series, that could easily surpass its current success in first-run airplay on NBC was within quick grasp. They had 12 seasons of the series to syndicate and were anxious to do so. Michael, Lorne, and Dan were made aware of this and sold their syndication rights for $1 million dollars each. They didn't waste any time.
NBC began experimenting with selected episodes from the 1967-70 period for the summer reruns just after the twelfth season completed its airplay in April of 1971. At the end of that summer, the ratings came back very high. When the thirteenth season completed airplay in April of 1972, the network issued the series into national syndication a month later with "Different Pines, Same Wind" on Tuesday, May 2, 1972. Now titled "Ponderosa" at 7:30 PM.
The episodes they selected for half the summer reruns in 1972 were once again from the 1967-70 period, which were highly-rated and strong stories. The remainder of the other episodes they selected were from the previous 1971-72 season that had the highest ratings. The syndicated reruns concluded on August 29th, with "Queen High".
The network aired the syndicated prints under the title of "Ponderosa" on Tuesday evenings at 7:30 PM. The ratings were very high and this pleased them to no end. This would be the new timeslot for the series' fourteenth season in September. Besides, the network had four new television series they were considering for Sunday evening airplay at 9:00 PM. It appeared the legendary horse opera would promptly be excised from its most famous timeslot since the fall of 1961.
The non-syndicated reruns telecast on Sundays at 9:00 PM were under the title of "Bonanza" and consisted of episodes from the 1967-70 period. The other half of the reran episodes were from the previous thirteenth season, which had lower ratings in general, during their initial run on NBC. The network was now absolutely positive the syndication of the series would enable them to make greater profits in the long run. The 1971-72 season had the lowest ratings since the 1960-61 season and the situation looked bleak for the future of "Bonanza's" continued existance.
Michael Landon had practically been running the show for several years since 1966. He had been writing and directing excellent and strong stories for the network since the 1967-68 season. He'd get the scripts that were completed and cite them as being "a piece of crap" and criticize the writers. He'd run over to David Dortort's office and complain about them and then go tell producer Richard Collins about this. He'd go inside his trailer and rewrite them for some 2-3 hours and come out with a much better story.
It was May of 1972 and production of the fourteenth season would begin the first week of June, as per request of the new sponsor, Ford Motors. The company would shoot 26 episodes and the new sponsor backed them all the way. The main sponsor since 1961 was General Motors, who had pulled out at the end of the 1971-72 season. They told David Dortort the series wasn't making enough profits for their benefit. He concluded their departure was a hasty one.
David and Michael had already called David Canary and asked him to return to the series. The reason for this was because a few years earlier, Mike felt the chemistry would progessively degenerate without him as Candy on the series. He left shortly thereafter in 1970, because of a contract dispute and failed in his solo career. They made the call and Canary was more than happy to return to the ranch, sign a one-year contract and reprise his role. But now, with a higher salary and as honorary foreman of the Ponderosa Ranch.
Michael was writing his "Forever" story in longhand on the yellow legal secretary pads at home during the first week of May. The story had Hoss Cartwright abandoning
bachelorhood and marrying Alice Harper. Their newfound marriage culminates with a terrible tragedy when she is brutally murdered by gamblers. The leader of the group is a psychopath named Damion, who is seeking the money her indolent brother owes him.
She refuses to pay Damion, so he and Hanley kill her and John inside the home and burn it down. Hoss and Candy go after the killers and seek revenge for the tragic loss. In May, NBC publicly announced the impending story for the fall premiere. This would be a showcase for Dan Blocker, who had been recovering from gall bladder operation since April 29th. He seemed fine after the surgery, but fate had other plans.
Michael took some time to call his good friend, Bob Miles, who left two years earlier and moved to Utah. He purchased a lot to build a home on and left the series in 1970. He gave Bob a rundown of everything that was going on with the network and the series. Michael told him he knew NBC was going to cancel the series because they were so anxious to syndicate it in reruns. No one else had any inkling except Michael.
His highly intuitive nature would prove him correct and soon. Bob said he would be free by later in the fall and would be able to return to the series to resume his job as stunt coordinator. Bill Clark had taken his place the last two years in this position doing stunt coordination, since he was there since the first day in 1959.
On May 13th, Dan Blocker died at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood. The immediate cause of his death was a pulmonary embolism that was brought on by a blood clot that morning at home. He was 43-1/2 years old. His untimely demise was a devastating blow to the cast and crew. The "Forever" story was the result of Dortort wanting a ratings grabber that would bring back the audience he'd lost the previous season. He commissioned Michael to write the script because he was the best writer and director on the series. Because of Blocker's death, Mike had to type up the final draft over the next three weeks and change the character from Hoss to Joe. He made a few minor revisions and completed it on June 5th.
This was thought by many at the time to be a good move to get the audience back and the company would be able to produce the series for a few more seasons. Michael was not one of the many who believed this. He'd told veteran crew members such as Teddy Voightlander, Buzzy Boggs, Kent McCray, Bob Miles and David Canary what he knew was going to happen. NBC had thirteen complete seasons they were so eager to syndicate on the market and profit from. To ensure this, Dan's death was only a solid means of cementing the cancellation of the series for good.
"Forever" aired on September 12, 1972. It coincided with the 14th anniversary of the series being on the air since the pilot episode premiered on the same day in 1959. The ratings for "Forever" ranked at No. 4 in the Nielsen ratings and the next few episodes remained inside the Top 15. By mid-October, the series had sunk to No. 53 in the Nielsen ratings. Shortly thereafter, the network ended a long-term contract with David Dortort.
Less than a month later, NBC in New York cancelled the series, on Friday, November 3, 1972. The crew was notified by Richard Collins over the weekend. Mitch Vogel was delivered a telegram while unloading groceries in his driveway by a messenger. No one from NBC contacted him directly. The cast was told by network executives on Monday, the 6th. They candidly told them the last day of shooting would end on Wednesday, the 8th. The cast had been paid their salaries in June, so the network executives didn't think this short notice would matter to them.
Incidentally, Bob Miles had returned to the series as stunt coordinator for "The Marriage of Theodora Duffy", the first week of the month. It turned out to be the last episode of the series filmed. They held the wrap party on the 8th and the booze was flowing everywhere. It was a shock to everyone except Michael, albeit he was disgusted with their lack of dignity for giving short notice. Lorne Greene shared the same opinion and refused to show up for work on the final day of shooting. Four months later, the 14-year run concluded with "The Hunter" telecast on January 16, 1973.
A short time thereafter, NBC was preparing to put the series in syndication for US and worldwide markets. The dismal news was the Federal Communications Commission had blocked them and the other major networks from syndicating their own television programs. To remedy the situation, they contacted National Telefilm Associates in Los Angeles. They were an independent film distributor that was established in 1958 by Ely Landau.
In 1963, Republic Studios closed and NTA bought their library of feature films and serials. They had achieved great success with distributing the Rebublic library for television syndication. NTA acquired the ownership to reproduce and distribute the NBC film library in 1973. They would serve as the syndication arm for the network. The next step for NBC was to select the number of "Bonanza" episodes for NTA to syndicate for US and worldwide markets.
They went through a list of every episode made over the 14-year run and selected 311 filmed episodes for NTA to reproduce and distribute in television syndication. They selected the first six seasons (with one small exception), along with the complete eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh seasons for NTA to distribute. The network refused to release six's "Lothario Larkin," the complete season seven, along with the complete seasons twelve, thirteen, and fourteen of the series.
Their approach in this event was to give NTA the "Bonanza" episodes that had the Cartwright family intact, but seems rather inappropriate in style. "Lothario Larkin" really didn't center on the family members, but rather on other characters and was a fine episode. The seventh season of the series was the first one without Pernell Roberts and they didn't seem to be concerned with releasing it for airplay.
In the case of the final 69 episodes made up of seasons twelve through fourteen, the network decided they were not recognized enough for syndication. The twelfth year was the last season inside the Top 10, but the subsequent seasons thirteen and fourteen suffered from low ratings and weaker chemistry. This resulted in the above episodes being confined in NBC's storage vault in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
The 311 episodes NBC selected were flown to NTA in Los Angeles. They took the 35mm prints and magnetic soundtracks and struck off 16mm prints for for independent television stations to purchase and air in syndicated reruns. NBC initially dubbed one syndication strip the Classic 260. This was basically a scaled-down strip package of the 311 episodes, which omitted 51 episodes from the eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh seasons. The syndication prints were released under the original title of "Bonanza" and the syndicated title of "Ponderosa" in May of 1973.
Station owners could take their pick of which strip package to purchase for daily reruns. One could purchase the 260 episode package, where another could purchase the 311 episode package for reruns in syndication. One example was KTLA in Los Angeles initially bought the syndication rights for the 260 package in May of 1973. Two years later, they bought the 51 episodes from the 1966-70 period and began airing them in 1975 for daily airplay. They concluded their run in 1978 and the 260 package was put back into daily reruns at the station the following year.
In 1982, NBC took the final 69 episodes from the 1970-72 period from the vault in the New Jersey warehouse and shipped them to NTA for foreign distribution. It appeared the demand for them was increasing for reruns on the syndicated markets. They took the original 35mm negatives and struck off 16mm interpositives for stations who would be interested in buying them for daily reruns. A television station in the United Kingdom was interested in airing the final three seasons. NTA made the deal and shipped them out in 1982. That same year, independent station WXNE in Boston purchased and aired the 16mm syndication prints of the entire 430 episode film library in one year of syndicated airplay.
In 1986, NBC begun to digitally remaster the series for resyndication on cable and local TV stations. The new medium to be used was D-1 masters for breathtaking image and digital audiotape for brilliant sound. The 35mm interpositives and magnetic soundtracks are housed at NBC's warehouse in Fort Lee, New Jersey since the show was cancelled in 1972. The first step would be to give the prints a chemical spongebath to rid all dirt and dust off the prints.
D-1 was the first-generation 3/4 inch digital videotape made by Sony and DAT for crystal-clear sound reproduction. The resolution of the D-1's was 460 lines and the equipment was very expensive also. NBC technicians worked on the prints and sound, with telecine conversion that would have the video parameters correctly set for the optimum image. The soundtracks were taken to DAT and would be synched with the completed episodes and the logo at the end, Republic Pictures was tacked on.
Incidentally, NTA bought the Republic Pictures name and trademark and initiated their own home video division to handle its backlog. They still distributed Bonanza for NBC, and begun to release some episodes on VHS from the first six years, including season seven's "Ride the Wind" in its two-part and feature lengths in 1987.
NBC's work on the Bonanza prints and soundtracks spanned into 1988 and they had most of the series completed with the master set, backups and syndication set. The latter set contained edits for sponsors to fit in commercial breaks and fans who recalled the series could tell. By 1989, NBC had completed work and the Classic 260 was resyndicated. The other 171 episodes that were rarely or never reran, would rise to great fame on cable television, which is discussed below.
The Family Channel was the first cable television network to purchase the lesser-seen episodes of the series in early 1988. These consisted of 171 episodes that included six's "Lothario Larkin", season seven and the final three seasons of the beloved series. NBC made the cable syndication deal and NTA-Republic shipped the 171 episodes to Family Channel in Virginia.
Family Channel's in-house studio would replicate the syndication set for some months and make their own duplicate set for daily airplay. Four minutes of footage was excised from every episode during in-house editing. They added the gold sub-title, "The Lost Episodes" on almost every tape they duplicated, with a character generator during in-house replication.
This was merely a promotional title, since these episodes were out of circulation and rarely seen in the previous 15 years on television. The "Bonanza" syndication masters were jetted back to NTA in Los Angeles after replication was completed that year. The method of tape duplication for a syndicated television series by a station/network, prior to its initial airplay is a mandatory procedure in the acqusition of all television series in the syndicated marketplace.
The first shipment was 120 episodes the Family Channel received in 1988. A year later, they received 51 more episodes from seasons eight, nine, ten and eleven. These prints had a good deal of damage and age to them, so NBC took more time in digitally restoring them than they anticipated. They were shipped out in the summer of 1989 to the Family Channel for replication and subsequent airing. Upon completion of duplication, the 51 syndication masters were jetted back to Los Angeles.
Family Channel CEO and owner Pat Robertson censored five episodes that didn't meet his religious approval for his network of the same theme. In his opinion, they weren't up to his "standards" of family quality. Censored from the seventh season was "The Strange One". The landmark two-part episode "The Pursued" was another victim of Robertson's censorship tactics. His final two choices from the thirteenth season were "Second Sight" and "A Visit to Upright". In the same year, USA Network bought "The Strange One" and "Second Sight" for airing. They did some editing, inserted non-original titles and voiced in an annoying narrator. They retitled the two episodes, "Bonanza: The Movie".
Back to the Family Channel; it appeared Robertson was at it again in 1991, when he censored the "Forever" episode. Six years later in 1997, he sold the network to Fox Television. There was change of hands at the network and it was now the Fox Family Channel. "Forever" aired one last time in the two-part edition that summer. The last rerun of the series was on August 14, 1998. In the case of Pat Robertson's censorship is that it really serves no purpose for anyone, except the owner of the cable network. The second primary factor is it pushes the episodes out of circulation for many years, making them literally unobtainable.
Goodlife Television Network bought the rights to air the 171 syndicated package in 1999. They spent months replicating them onto Betacam tapes and time-compressed them with a 4% increase in recording pitch. This would make the entire presentation run four times faster than normal speed, so they could fit in 15 minutes of commercials in a 60-minute timeslot. The upside is this method would allow them not to perform any edits for daily airplay. The downside is the music tracks lose their original quality from the increase in pitch. The dialogue runs faster, too. In any event, it's not that detracting from the overall presentation, but at times it's somewhat annoying to a discerning ear. They premiered in October of 1999 on the cable network.
Goodlife dropped the series in September of 2001. The three-year contract expired and the programming director replaced the series with "Highway to Heaven". Three years later, its contract ran out and it was replaced by other programming. The 171 episodes were purchased by the Hallmark Channel in 2002. They signed a four-year viewing contract. In-house replication had the episodes edited with the usual amount of 6 minutes of footage excised prior to daily airings.
The series premiered in December of 2002 and with a big welcome from fans across the country. In some episodes, the editing performed is horrible with quick cuts applied. In other cases, many excellent sequences are missing and it's very obvious to a viewer who knows the contents of the episodes, there are missing scenes that were excised. By the summer of 2004, the series' ratings and viewership were falling, so Hallmark removed it from daily airplay.
The classic 260 package has aired on literally every independent television station in America, since it was distributed by NTA in May of 1973. One of the first independent stations to purchase the set was WTBS in Atlanta, Georgia. Daily airplay of the 260 episode package began in 1975 and lasted for 20 years. This long stretch of reruns had a special 1991 tribute for the tragic death of Michael Landon that summer. The televised reruns concluded on October 31, 1995. That evening, they aired "The Spitfire", "The Underdog", and "Twilight Town", in memory of Michael Landon's birthday.
In 1998, Paxson Television bought the rights to air the 260 episode package. This independent television network was owned by Lowell "Bud" Paxson. It was similar in theme to the Family Channel's lineup of syndicated reruns. In-house studio at Paxson Network performed the digital duplication and editing in preparation for the daily reruns. The series premiered on August 31, 1998. Paxson's religious nature required the censorship of two episodes from the tenth season which were "Salute to Yesterday" and "My Friend, My Enemy".
Paxson Network was plagued by financial difficulties and debts for many years since its launch. Most all of its syndicated series were replaced by infomercials. Paxson's shares on the New York stock exchange were tanking out and his relationship with NBC was deteriorating by the early 2000's. His situation on the stock market was bleak and had him in debt for over $800 million dollars in lost profits. In late 2005, he sold what was left of his failed network to another independent company. They are known as the i Channel and still carry the series in syndication.
TV Land acquired the 260 package in 2003, with a four-year cable license, which was renewed in 2007 for another five years of airplay through 2012. The usual procedure of in-house duplication from the syndication masters was applied and the series premiered on Labor Day Weekend that year. The usual amount of syndicated running time was cut down to 42 minutes in a 60-minute timeslot. The other 6 minutes of footage was excised for sponsors to advertise their products on the cable network.
The series is still on TV Land and the only episode they appear to have censored is six's "The Saga of Squaw Charlie". The programming department stated the episode's theme didn't meet their quality standards of what they consider to be family entertainment. The series is still seen in daily reruns on TV Land. They are owned by Viacom (owner of Paramount Pictures).
In 1995, the Republic Pictures library was bought by Aaron Spelling's Spelling Entertainment Group. This included Worldvision Enterprises, spun off from ABC Films in 1971 to syndicate ABC-owned series. The ownership and distribution rights of the Republic library was now in their holdings.
Republic Pictures was reduced to a marketing brand-name and their video division was shut down in 1995. The home video rights of the library were leased to Artisan Entertainment in 1999, while the library continued to be released under the Republic name and logo. That same year, the Spelling/Republic library merged with Viacom. This company was initially created in 1971 to distribute CBS-owned shows.
In 1984, Viacom merged with Paramount Communications. In 2000, Viacom merged with CBS. The merging of Spelling/Republic became a wholly-owned division of Viacom/Paramount. In 2003, they phased out the Worldvision syndication arm of Spelling's company. In December of that year, Artisan was sold to Lion's Gate Entertainment. They continued to use the Republic name, logo and library under license from Paramount Pictures.
In December of 2005, Lion's Gate lost the video rights to the Republic TV library because their contract expired and they didn't want to renew it. Lion's Gate did renew the video rights to Republic's library of feature films, under license from Paramount the next year. In early 2006, Republic Pictures' holdings consist of a catalog of 3,000 films and TV series including the original Republic library (except for the Roy Rogers and Gene Autry catalogs, owned by their estates); the pre-1973 NBC library (including Bonanza and The High Chaparral), most of the Quinn Martin (The Fugitive, The Streets of San Francisco, etc.) and Aaron Spelling (The Love Boat, Twin Peaks, Beverly Hills 90210, etc.) catalogs, select pre-1952 United Artists (High Noon, Copacabana, etc), and NTA holdings (Fleischer cartoons, It's a Wonderful Life).
Viacom completed its split from CBS into separate Viacom and CBS companies on December 31, 2005. Republic's TV library is with Paramount, who holds the theatrical and home video rights. CBS exclusively retains ownership of the television rights. The NTA holdings were split in half because of Viacom's corporate split into two separate companies in late 2005. This resulted in Paramount passing ownership of Republic's TV library to CBS.
CBS has expressed interest in releasing Bonanza on DVD in North America. The final coordination of NBC-Universal, CBS and Paramount executives is currently being worked out for DVD releases in North America. In December of 2005, CBS/Paramount began releasing Bonanza on DVD in Germany. This is one of many territories CBS owns distribution rights to, with sub-licensing by Paramount to a European distribution company.