THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT
Hundreds of channels and nothin’s on – except for...
By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin
"There they were, still in living color. Ben. Little Joe. Hoss. Adam. Hop Sing.
Almost 60 years after “Bonanza’s” television debut, a rerun was riding across my screen. I couldn’t help myself. I paused to watch as Hoss tried to help an alcoholic regain his self-esteem.
Television certainly has changed since I started watching the “Cartwrights” as a 12-year-old. There were only three or four other TV channels back then, so there wasn’t much competition. We watched the scenic Ponderosa shots on TV screens only slightly larger than a computer screen. And it was free.
Today, I have my pick from hundreds of channels, streaming services and on-demand. And I was now watching “Bonanza” on a 55-inch flat-screen television. And it’s not free.
So, you may wonder, with all the other programs, why was I attracted to a “Bonanza” rerun?
Partly because I am weary of the endless arguing on 24-hour “news” channels. And the newness of Netflix has worn off. Solving grotesque serial murders, after all, is pretty much the same whether in Sweden, Iceland or the United Kingdom. Even “Law & Order” seems stale the fifth time around.
I think we suffer from the theory of rising expectations. We want more than we have. When we get what we want, we yearn for more.
There is no better example of this theory than the current state of television. We have more programs to choose from, more ways to receive the programs and more devices – big and small – to watch them on than ever before.
Yet, is anyone ever satisfied? Bundled viewers want to be unbundled. Viewers with 800 channels scream about higher prices. People paying lower prices scream about not getting sports, food or anything but reruns. And who has time to check out and figure out Sling, Hulu or Acorn?
My brief “Bonanza” escape also was driven by curiousity. Could a series that TV Guide voted one of the top 50 shows of all time survive if introduced today?
Most of “Bonanza’s” 431 episodes presented moral dilemmas and did it in a way you didn’t have to turn off the television when kids entered the room. I suspect such a series featuring a father and his three dissimilar sons taking on just causes wouldn’t last long today.
Watching the “Bonanza” episode was nostalgic. It reminded me of simpler times. I wasn’t in a wheelchair from a spinal cord injury, my parents were alive, and I could still beat my little brother in our boxing matches and Wiffle ball games. I hadn’t yet learned that life, unlike “Bonanza,” didn’t always have happy endings.
Started in 1959, “Bonanza” was one of the first series to be filmed and broadcast in color. I remember going to a friend’s house to gather around his family’s new color TV.
“Bonanza” aired on NBC and its corporate parent, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), used the show to spur sales of its color TV sets. My dad loved the show, so it wasn’t long before we had our own.
Each Sunday my dad would count down the minutes until the show started. Once it started, my mom, brother and I would count the minutes until he dozed off on his couch.
We would laugh as my dad would claim that despite his snoring, he had actually watched from beginning to end. We would fill him in anyway.
I don’t think I will watch another “Bonanza.” Sadly, the actors who played Ben, Little Joe, Hoss, Adam and Hop Sing have all died. And so have the times.
(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at email@example.com)
• Lorne Green (Ben), Pernell Roberts (Adam), Michael Landon (Little Joe) and Dan Blocker (Hoss) were all billed equally. The opening credits would alternate the order among the stars.
• We all think of “Bonanza” as a Sunday night show, but the series started on Saturday nights opposite Perry Mason. The initial ratings were respectable, but NBC executives considered canceling the show because of its high cost. The company decided to move Bonanza to Sunday nights, and it soared in the ratings.
• “Bonanza” featured a memorable theme. Although there were two official sets of lyrics, the series just used the instrumental. Johnny Cash was the first to record a full-length version of the song, but only after discarding the original lyrics and writing new ones.
• Pernell Roberts, a stage actor doing TV for the first time, was not prepared at all for the grueling filming schedule, and also wasn’t shy about publicly complaining about the show not living up to his hopes, especially his confusion that three guys in their 30s were still completely beholden to their father. He left after six seasons, with only a few guest spots afterwards.
• Michael Landon’s career as a famous writer/director began on “Bonanza.” He wrote his first episode in season 3 and had his directorial debut in season 9 — he wrote a total of 20 episodes and directed 14 by the time the series ended.