Lost ‘Bonanza’ comfort food episodes reign supreme on INSP channel

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When classic western fans tune into premium cable network INSP, 171 lost “Bonanza” episodes air daily. Learn all about the series that was in the Nielsen Top Five for an astoundingly consecutive nine years illustrated with 12 photos and videos. Presenting the latter-day cast of “Bonanza,” the most popular television series of the 1960s. Michael Landon, Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, and Mitch Vogel are seen on the new Ponderosa soundstage at Warner Bros. studio in the summer of 1971. Blocker succumbed to an unexpected pulmonary embolism a few days after undergoing routine gall bladder surgery on May 13, 1972, about a year after this photo was taken. He was only 43 years old. Photography by Gary Null / NBCUniversal

Should you be searching for comfort food TV in this era of divisiveness, uncertainty, distraction, and encumbrance, 171 “lost” episodes of Bonanza, not seen since Starz’s Encore Westerns channel last aired them at the dawn of the twenty-tens, air daily on INSP, a premium cable network available on both DISH and DirecTV. Two episodes are transmitted weekdays at 3 and 4 p.m. with extra doses on Saturday afternoons at 5 p.m. and 1 a.m. on Sunday morning. All times are Eastern Standard.

The episodes, which have been edited for commercial allotment, commence after Pernell Roberts [Adam Cartwright]’s departure from the series at the end of season six in May 1965 and continue until the show’s cancellation in January 1973. So why do all of the Roberts-era and subsequent scattershot Bonanza episodes only appear on TV Land and MeTV? After the series was unceremoniously dumped from NBC’s Tuesday evening lineup, the network was faced with the task of syndicating the most popular series of the 1960s for U.S. airplay on local television stations.

They chose 201 episodes from the first six years, arguably the show’s most enduring era, and a random 59 others through the 1969–70 season. Apparently the bean counters forgot that the series remained a Top 10 show in the Nielsen ratings through 1971. Nevertheless, this is the constant syndication package seen on television.

David Canary unofficially replaced Roberts in season nine as affable drifter and former cavalry officer Candy Canady, who was taken in by the Cartwrights and promoted to ranch foreman. After a contract dispute over salary, Canary left the series for two seasons but returned at the behest of Lorne Greene and Michael Landon for the abbreviated 16-episode final season after Dan Blocker’s shocking demise in May 1972.

Series creator David Dortort apparently caught Mitch Vogel’s natural performance alongside Steve McQueen in 1969’s The Reivers, based on the William Faulkner novel. The producer subsequently urged Vogel to join Bonanza as Jamie Hunter, a rambling rainmaker’s orphaned child in need of a stable family environment. Only 14 years old at the time, Vogel fit in perfectly over 46 episodes. Although some viewers find Jamie’s personality annoying, Ben “Pa” Cartwright [Greene] authoritatively mentored the teenager — Hoss and Little Joe were obviously fully grown men — and likely touched viewers seeking a father figure.

Two of Bonanza’s most valuable assets were Blocker and Landon. Blocker was the impenetrable glue that kept the long-running western firing on all cylinders until his tragic passing of a pulmonary embolism following routine gall bladder surgery. Unlike his cast mates, by the third episode — “The Newcomers” costarring the emotionally fragile Inger Stevens — Blocker had already transformed Hoss into a multifaceted, gigantic character who was easygoing and lovable, awkward and bashful around pretty girls, occasionally gullible when Little Joe convinced him to partake in a crazy get rich quick scheme, yet willing to aid anyone in distress.

Landon honed his writing, directing, producing, and acting acumen, wringing the emotion out of any scene he oversaw. Landon wrote and directed “The Wish” [1969] which dealt with Hoss trying to help an African American family combat prejudice post-Civil War. Ultimately winning the prestigious Bronze Wrangler at the Western Heritage Awards, Landon called it his favorite episode of the entire series.

Tragic, gut-wrenching episodes like “He Was Only Seven” and “Forever” [both from 1972] should be required viewing for first-time directors and writers. As another example of Landon’s versatility behind the camera, check out the hilarious dry wit found in “The Younger Brothers’ Younger Brother” [1972] featuring the scene-chewing Strother Martin. Bonanza is the epitome of television excellence, and thanks to syndication from both packages, 21st century viewers will continue to discover the iconic western family program for generations to come.

© Jeremy Roberts, 2012, 2018. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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