Bonanza: The TV-Movies
Bonanza: The Next Generation-1988
|Written by: Paul Savage
Directed by: William F. Claxton
Produced by: David Dortort
Airdate: April 20, 1988
Fourteen years after Bonanza was cancelled, millions were yearning to
see a "real" Bonanza reunion, which was never destined to be, even if
David Dortort was among the millions. The announcment many were waiting
to hear since January 1973 came during the summer of 1987: David Dortort
had written a reunion movie to be syndicated to stations before year's
end. Rumors circulated that Michael Landon would be included in the
cast, but in truth, only Lorne Greene had agreed to return to the
Ponderosa. Fate had other plans.
On August 19, 1987, Lorne Greene had to get surgery for an abdominal hernia and later in the month, there were physical health issues that he was suffering from when he had the post-surgery checkup by his doctors. They conducted tests and diagnosed him with prostate cancer and the outlook didn't look good.
In early September, he was hospitalized again in Santa Monica and his condition was deteriorating. He succumed to the cancer on September 11, 1987-- just one day before 'Bonanza's' 28th anniversary. Lorne and his family were devastated by this and it was not made public, nor was the real cause of death at the time. In the ensuing two years that followed, the news leaked out that the prostate cancer and its complications that afflicted him were the real cause of his death.
and Pernell had visited with him, during his last days and they were
both devastated. Michael said: "He was Ben Cartwright to the end". "I took
his hand in mine and held it. He looked at me and we started to arm
wrestle like we used to. Then he broke into a smile and nodded. And
everything was okay, I think he wanted me to know everything was
okay". Dortort had done some re-writes with a reduced role for Lorne, but
it was too late.
Production of "Bonanza: The Next Generation" commenced on October
24th, 1987 at Lake Tahoe, and filming was made on both the California and
Nevada sides of the basin. Starring as Ben Cartwright's brother Aaron was
John Ireland, who had a guest role in season nine's "Judgement at Red
Creek" in 1967. Also in the cast were Robert Fuller
(a regular on both
"Laramie" and "Wagon Train"), as the Ponderosa foreman, Charlie Poke. John
Amos ("Good Times"), as the cook, and Barbara Anderson ("Ironside"), as
Joe Cartwright's wife, Annebelle. Dortort denied reports that Michael
Landon was going to appear, and had changed his mind when Lorne
died. "This was just more than likely the wishful thinking on the part of
the hopeful viewers", he said.
Michael Landon, Jr., however, was introduced as Joe's
son, Benjamin, complete with a pinto as his mount of choice. The younger
Landon's acting work had only been brief, as an extra in "Little House On
The Prairie", and his lack of skill was obvious, nor did he inherit the
the skills which his father possessed so naturally. A good-looking kid, he
nevertheless resembled a blonde Jerry Seinfeld more than Michael
Landon. To be fair, his true passion was working behind the cameras, and
the 1991 documentary he produced about his father was excellent.
Gillian Greene, Lorne's daughter had a small part as the granddaughter
of Virginia City's banker ("Bonanza" and "Little House" veteran Dabbs
Greer), and she did do a capable job during her few screen moments. In
addition to Dabbs Greer, other guests from "Bonanza's" past included
Peter-Mark Richman and Kevin Hagen, familiar to "Little House" fans as
Some purists were not pleased to learn Hoss had a bastard son, Josh (Brian A. Smith), and the revelation that Hoss had been the best man at
Joe and Annabelle's wedding, totally conflicted with "Forever", in which
Joe marries Alice after the death of Hoss. Not as confusing was the
character of Aaron Cartwright, a former sailer who had spent most of his
life in the South Seas. In the series, Ben had said his brother's name was
John, and that he lived in Ohio. One can only presume Ben son's had more
than one paternal uncle.
With a story by Dortort, script by Paul Savage (a writer for the
classic series), and "Bonanza's" most profilic director, William F.
Claxton, in command, one might logically have expected "Bonanza: The Next
Generation", to be a nostalgic trip through Tahoe's towering pines, but
the experience was a decidedly bittersweet one. Thematically, the movie
was pure "Bonanza", as the Cartwright heirs battle to save the
Ponderosa, circa 1905, from the ravages of hydraulic mining. But the
original cast members were sorely missed, their absence emphasized by an
oil portrait of Ben, a photograph of Hoss, and a visit to their graves. The
return of David Canary as Candy, if possible, would have helped fill the
In early December 1987, a brief news item stated, "Production for
'Bonanza: The Next Generation' has been completed, a syndicated TV-movie
pilot that will air between March 7th and March 31st, 1988, in at least 90
percent of the United States". The story went on to say that the
character of Joe Cartwright "is missing in action", in the
Spanish-American War. If the new Bonanza becomes a series, Joe's
whereabouts will be determined according to Michael Landon's interest in
Landon, deeply involved in the making of "Highway To Heaven", was not
interested, nor apparently were very many others, as interest in reviving
the series cooled for the next few years. Following its run in
syndication, "Bonanza: The Next Generation" was shown on The Disney
Channel, then released on home video.
Cast: John Ireland, Barbara Anderson, Michael Landon, Jr., Brian
A. Smith, Peter-Mark-Richman, Gillian Greene, Robert Fuller, John Amos, Robert
Hoy, Rex Lynn, Jack Lilley, Gary Reed, Richard Bergman, Jerry Gatlin, Robert
Jauregui, Jeff Meyer, Dabbs Greer, William Benedict, Kevin Hagen, Jeffery
Boudov, David Q. Combs, Patrick Joseph O' Neill, Bill Anderson, Joyce
Anderson, Michael Dellafemina, Clayton Staggs, Lee McLaughlin, Lloyd Dewayne
Collins, Sr., Buddy Wright, John D. "Zeke" Ward, Jeannette Tedler
Knight, William James Anderson, Barbara Gulling-Goff, Dean Calkins, John E. O' Terry, Jennifer Watson.
"Bonanza: The Next Generation" was filmed on location at: Lake Valley, on
the California side of Lake Tahoe, and the Ponderosa Ranch and Wagon Camp
and Spooner Lake, in the Incline Village area at Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
Bonanza: The Return-1993
|Written by: Michael McGreevey, Michael Landon, Jr., Tom Brinson
Directed by: Jerry Jameson
Produced by: Gary Wohllenben, Kent McCray, David Dortort
Airdate: November 28, 1993
Giving the passings of Lorne Greene and Michael Landon, as well as the
total reluctance of Pernell Roberts to reprise the role as Adam, it
appeared as though all prospects for reviving "Bonanza" were finally
dead. But early in 1992, a syndicated series based on "Bonanza: The Next
Generation", was announced to begin production at Lake Tahoe in
June. Although Ben Johnson was scheduled to replace the late John Ireland
as Aaron Cartwright, the role was changed to a character named Bronc
Evans, a seasoned Ponderosa wrangler. Some shooting was done, and Johnson
even hosted a promotional film, but the series, "Bonanza: Legends of the
Ponderosa" never got off the ground. Budgets for syndicated programs are
often based on the sale of broadcast rights to foreign markets, and
funding of the updated Cartwright saga fell far short of the $1.1
million-per episode Dortort and his team required.
However, in February of 1993 NBC, which had been first offered the
series, had a change of heart, due largely to the recent ratings success
of "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" on CBS. While the network was not interested
in a weekly series, they were willing to test the waters with a two-hour
movie, by a Bonanza documentary of sorts.
On November 28th, 1993, viewers were first treated to "Back To
Bonanza", a one-hour hodgepodge of clips from the original series loosely
structured around the 1963 episode "The Legacy". Hosted by Dirk Blocker
and Michael Landon, Jr., it was a nostalgic overview rather than a
definitive retrospective, and it pretty much ignored the post-Adam
year, or what is more popularly know as "Bonanza: The Lost Episodes".
The movie, "Bonanza: The Return" was richer looking then "The Next
Generation", and introduced Allistair MacDougall as Adam's son, A.C., and
Brian Leckner (replacing Brian A. Smith) as Hoss' son, Josh, even though
Dirk Blocker, a dead ringer for his late father, was among the
cast. Dortort felt he was too old for the part and gave him the role as a
newspaperman instead. ("That's the reality of our business", Blocker
reacted). Back as Benj, was Landon, Jr., (who co-wrote the story), but
gone were Robert Fuller, Barbara Anderson, John Amos, and Gillian
Greene. Now supporting players included Richard Roundtree, Linda Gray, and
Jack Elam. And the Cartwright legend was further confused by the addition
of Sara (Emily Warfield), Ben's granddaughter, and a change of dates on
Hoss' gravestone. In "The Next Generation", the years of his birth and
death were 1848 and 1881, but in "The Return", they have been amended to
1842 and 1878. The correct dates are on the Bonanza Chronology page to
make amends for these oversights. Viewers with good memories noted the
fact that Ben Johnson's name was Jim Kelly in the 1971 episode "Top
Hand" (which provides the first sepia-toned flashback used in"The
Return"), and not Bronc Evans.
Quibbles aside, the movie was generally a more entertaining
production than "The Next Generation". A former Ponderosa ranch hand (Dean Stockwell, who appeared as a different character, Matthew Rush, in the
1969 episode "The Medal"), wants to acquire not only the Cartwright's
land, but also Sara. Of course he fails at both attempts, and eventually is
run over by his own train.
For sentimentalists, the highlights of "The Return",were a scene in which
the younger Cartwrights come across an album containing photographs of
the original cast, and clips from "Top Hand" (1971), "Ponderosa
Explosion" (1967), and "The Philip Deideshiemer Story" (1959).
Ben Johnson remarked that the original show, on which he appeared
three times, "was always decent. It was always something you could see
with your family". As for the elder Landon and Blocker might have felt
about their son's new version of the old legend, Johnson said, "I think
their fathers would be proud of us a-carryin' on in the tradition".
"The Return" doubled as pilot for either a new series or more
"Bonanza" movies, and despite a TV Guide preview calling it "a
well-intentional, but pale sequel".
Cast: Ben Johnson, Allistair McDougal, Brian Leckner, Michael
Landon, Jr., Emily Warfield, Jack Elam, Dirk Blocker, Dean Stockwell, Linda
Grey, David Sage, Stewart Moss, John Ingle, Richard Roundtree, Charles
"Bonanza: The Return" was filmed on location at: Ponderosa Ranch and Wagon Camp, Incline Village, Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park, and Tahoe Meadows, Toiyabe National Forest, Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Segments filmed on location in Tuolumne County were at Red Hills, Chinese Camp and Cover's Apple Ranch, Tuolumne, California.
Bonanza: Under Attack-1995
|Written by: Denne Bart Petitclerc
Directed by: Mark Tinker
Produced by: Thomas Sarnoff
Airdate: January 15, 1995
A more engaging follow-up, originally entitled "The Ghosts", but
changed to a more pedestrian "Under Attack", and aired on January
15, 1995. This time Bronc and company defended the wounded Frank James (Leonard Nimoy), from renegade Pinkerton detectives, using an old cabin
built by Ben Cartwright for cover.
Perhaps the only deficiency of "Under Attack", was the casting of Jeff
Phillips a Kevin Bacon lookalike, as Adam's son. According to David
Dortort, NBC had assigned Allistair MacDougall to another project without
considering the fact that he would be needed for the next "Bonanza"
film. Phillips did a sufficiently job portraying A.C., but in the
estimation of some critics, MacDougall was more believeable as the son
of a character once played by Pernell Roberts. Sonia Satra, an actress who
would have been Bronc Evans' granddaughter, had the series taken off in
1992, was introduced as A.C.'s love interest. But in the tradition of
nearly all the Cartwright women, she leaves by the end of the film.
Brian Leckner, again playing Josh, preferred "Under Attack" to "The
Return", and hoped it would finally result in a a long-planned
series. "This one is a lot different. It's got a good script and Mark
Tinker directed it. He's the one who did the 'ER' pilot."
Despite respectable ratings, "Under Attack" remains the most recent
television effort based on "Bonanza". Ben Johnson, sadly, passed away in
1996, putting "the next generation" Cartwrights in limbo. Although there
were were serious preparations for a feature film at Universal Studios
in 1996, the future of that project appeared cloudy and never
Cast: Ben Johnson, Michael Landon, Jr., Brian Lecker, Leonard Nimoy, Dennis
Farina, Richard Roundtree, Jeff Phillips, Emily Warfield, Jack Elam, James
Karen, Sonja Satra, Dirk Blocker, J. Borden Indice, Ted Markland, Bill
Yarbrough, Kenny Call, Don Collier, Eric Lawson, Cal Bartlett, Biff Maynard.
"Bonanza: Under Attack" was filmed on location at: the Ponderosa
Ranch and Wagon Camp, Spooner Lake, near Incline Village, Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and other
portions made at the Bower's Mansion Park and Davis Creek Park, in Washoe