‘Bonanza’ Was Renamed During Its Initial Syndication


There aren’t many shows that can get away successfully with a name change during its initial airing, but the classic Western series Bonanza was certainly one of them. Following the adventures of Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) and his sons, the series ran for 14 seasons between 1959 and 1973, making it NBC’s longest-airing Western program. In fact, after Gunsmoke, it was second in line for that cowboy crown, and in efforts to boost ratings and build a new audience, the network aired Bonanza reruns during the summer of 1972, this time under a new title: Ponderosa.

‘Bonanza’s Popularity Increased With ‘Ponderosa’ on Tuesday Nights

For over a decade, Bonanza, the first Western televised in color, aired faithfully on Sunday nights on NBC. Folks across the nation could tune into the Cartwright’s notable adventures and follow Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, and Dan Blocker as they did everything from normal ranching routines to tackling complex social issues. “Another thing about Bonanza that is interesting is that it was a period drama, but it attempted to confront contemporary social issues,” noted Senior TV Guide EditorStephen Battaglio. “Most shows that tried to do it failed because the sponsors didn’t like it and the networks were nervous about getting letters. Bonanza, because it was set in the West at a different time, was able to do issue-oriented stories.” No wonder Michael Landon would do the same with his next series, Little House on the Prairie.

Though not immediately successful, Bonanza eventually exploded in popularity, placing #1 in the television ratings for several years in the mid-1960s. And then the rural purge reared its ugly head, with networks axing rural-themed shows left and right. While Bonanza wasn’t exempt from the same fate, it managed to run another few years before the hammer came down. At that time, actor Dan Blocker died before what would be the final season, and the series was moved to Tuesdays at 8 pm. But, according to television historians Tim Brooks and Earle F. Marsh in the ninth edition of The Complete Directory to Prime Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present, something major occurred in between these drastic events: NBC decided to air reruns of the show’s ninth through twelfth seasons on Tuesdays under the new title of Ponderosa. Ponderosa, of course, was in reference to the ranch that the Cartwrights lived on and owned on the show. In fact, the ranch itself ended up becoming a theme park attraction for many years, including during the show’s initial run.

NBC took out ads in publications such as TV Guide to promote the seemingly new and exciting Ponderosa, which some claim was the show’s originally intended title. Evidently, the Ponderosa campaign was successful for the network, as they officially moved Bonanza to Tuesday nights that fall… though that proved to be the final nail in Bonanza’s sinking coffin. Interestingly, this name change wasn’t the first or only time the Bonanza and Ponderosa titles were used interchangeably. In addition to the same show being aired under different names on television, series star Dan Blocker started a chain of steakhouses in the ’60s that used both names. That’s right, the Bonanza and Ponderosa Steakhouses were pretty popular in their day, but just like the television series itself, they eventually dwindled. Nowadays, there are only about two dozen left.

The ‘Ponderosa’ Title Was Dropped in the Western’s Final Season

But restaurant chains aside, the Bonanza and Ponderosa debacle wasn’t as confusing as it may sound. Despite airing under the Ponderosa title on weekdays and Bonanza on weekends that summer, the show returned to its original branding that fall, just in time for Season 14 to start. After sixteen episodes (a far cry from the usual 20-30-something), Bonanza finished 50th in the ratings rankings for the first time ever. That may sound good by today’s standards considering how many shows air a year, but Bonanza at one time was the highest-rated on television, almost always placing within the Top 30 (and sometimes at #1). No doubt, this drastic shift was due to the changed timeslot, moving from their usual Sunday nights to Tuesday, and the loss of star Dan Blocker the year before. With no “Hoss” Cartwright to pull us in, the Ponderosa just wasn’t as bright as it was before.


It wasn’t long before Bonanza was canceled. The show couldn’t make it on Tuesday nights, opposing an All in the Family spin-off series that had much better ratings, and without one of the most vital cast members of the show, it plummeted. Finally, NBC pulled the plug on their longest-running Western, ending Bonanza’s reign on the network (and television as a whole). “If we [knew] this was coming, we would have gone out with a bang and not a whimper,” expressed series star Lorne Green to the Los Angeles Times (via TV Obscurities). “I was rather surprised NBC renewed the show after Dan [Blocker] died, but since they did, I would have liked to see them play out the year.” Bonanza’s final episode, “The Hunter,” aired on January 16, 1973, thus finishing out a shortened season as unexpectedly as possible.

Of course, like other long-running television Westerns, Bonanza returned in the form of made-for-TV movies nearly two decades later. First with Bonanza: The Next Generation in 1988, then with Bonanza: The Return in 1993, and concluding the trilogy with Bonanza: Under Attack in 1995, with that final production airing almost exactly 22 years to the day that the original series ended. But unlike Gunsmoke, which brought back its lead for the televised continuation, the Bonanza films didn’t center on any of the characters from the original series. Instead, Michael Landon, Jr. played Benji Cartwright, the son of his father’s character “Little Joe,” and Gillian Greene, daughter of Lorne Greene, played his love interest Jennifer. Frankly, the “next generation” wasn’t nearly as interesting as the original, and these made-for-TV features never got too high off the ground.

‘Bonanza’ Was Relaunched Again in the 2000s as ‘The Ponderosa’

But the Ponderosa title would be revisited by the Bonanza franchise once more before it would ride into the sunset for good. In 2001, original Bonanza creator David Dorort teamed up with Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman creator Beth Sullivan to re-envision the Ponderosa Ranch for a new generation. Of course, unlike the literal Next Generation continuation films, this series revisited our favorite characters in their early years, when they first moved to the Lake Tahoe area. With Daniel Hugh Kelly, Drew Powell, Jared Daperis, and Matt Carmody taking over as the four original Cartwrights from Bonanza, the prequel series was unsurprisingly named The Ponderosa.

Airing originally on PAX TV, The Ponderosa only lasted a single 20-episode season before it was canceled. While the show got mostly decent reviews, it failed to capture the same magic of the original series. “This brazen exercise in television nostalgia could appeal to viewers starved for family entertainment,” noted Hal Boedecker of the Orlando Sentinel. “But there’s a simpler, more enjoyable way to go: Watch the Bonanza reruns.” Ironically, many of those same reruns were once branded Ponderosa, a quick piece of Western TV trivia that the prequel series attempted to capitalize on years after the fact. But lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice, at least not when it comes to television Westerns, and the Bonanza brand faded like a pair of work jeans after years of hard labor. The results were clear, but the show wouldn’t last forever.

Bonanza is available to watch on Prime Video in the U.S.