AskDefine | Define bonanza

Dictionary Definition



1 an especially rich vein of precious ore
2 a sudden happening that brings good fortune (as a sudden opportunity to make money); "the demand for testing has created a boom for those unregulated laboratories where boxes of specimen jars are processed lik an assembly line" [syn: boom, gold rush, gravy, godsend, manna from heaven, windfall, bunce]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. In mining, a rich mine or vein of silver or gold.
  2. By extension, anything which is a mine of wealth or yields a large income or return.
    The popular show quickly became a ratings bonanza for the network.

Extensive Definition

Bonanza is an American television series that ran on NBC from 1959 to 1973. Lasting 14 seasons, it is among one of the longest running Western television series (behind Gunsmoke) and continues to air sporadically on stations across the country.


Bonanza got its name from the Comstock Lode which was "an exceptionally large and rich mineral deposit" of silver. Virginia City was founded directly over the lode and was mined for 19 years. Ponderosa was an alternative title of the series, used for the broadcast of syndicated reruns while "Bonanza" was in first-run on NBC. Ponderosa is also the name of a series prequel airing on PAX-TV from 2001-02.
The "Bonanza" pilot was written by David Dortort, who also produced the series. Dortort's other creations include The Restless Gun, The High Chaparral, The Cowboys, and the Bonanza prequel, Ponderosa. For most of its 430 episode run, the main sponsor of Bonanza was Chevrolet and the stars occasionally appeared in commercials endorsing Chevrolet automobiles. All of the regular cast members had appeared in numerous stage, television and film productions before Bonanza, but none was particularly well-known.
In 1959, the series aired on Saturday evenings opposite, "The Perry Como Hour". Bonanza was one of the first series to be filmed and broadcast in color. RCA owned NBC (and the series) and wanted to use it to spur sales of color receivers. However, the Saturday night ratings were dismal and Bonanza was soon targeted for cancellation. Given one last chance it was moved to Sunday nights at 9:00 PM. The new time slot caused the series to soar, and it eventually reached number one by the mid-'60s; by 1970, it had become the first series to ever wind up in the Top Five for nine consecutive seasons (a record which would stand for decades) and thus established itself as the single biggest hit TV series of the 1960s; it remained high on the Nielsen ratings until 1971, when it finally fell out of the top ten.
The opening burning map of the Ponderosa Ranch was illustrated with incorrect bearings. David Dortort, choosing not to redo the map, altered the compass points. The original painting was done by artist Robert Temple Ayres.


The show chronicled the weekly adventures of the Cartwright family, headed by wise, thrice-widowed patriarch Ben Cartwright (played by Lorne Greene). He had three sons, each by a different wife: the oldest was the urbane architect Adam Cartwright (played by Pernell Roberts) who built the ranch house; the second was the warm and lovable giant Eric, better known by his nickname: "Hoss" (played by Dan Blocker); and the youngest was the hotheaded and impetuous Joseph or "Little Joe" (played by Michael Landon). The family's cook was the Chinese immigrant Hop Sing (played by Victor Sen Yung). "Bonanza" was considered an atypical western for its time, as the core of the storylines dealt with Ben and his three dissimilar sons, how they cared for one another, their neighbors and their land.
The family lived on a thousand-square-mile ranch called "The Ponderosa", on the shore of Lake Tahoe in Nevada; the name refers to the Ponderosa Pine, common in the West. The nearest town to the Ponderosa was Virginia City, where the Cartwrights would go to converse with Sheriff Roy Coffee (played by veteran actor Ray Teal), or his deputy Clem Foster (Bing Russell). Greene, Roberts, Blocker, and Landon were equal stars. The opening credits rotated among four versions, with each of the four being shown first in one version (in the order above). As the series advanced, writers began to showcase one or two Cartwrights in each episode, while the others would be seen briefly in the prologue and epilogue. Not only did this provide for more thorough character development, it also gave all four actors more free time.
Originally, the Cartwrights tended to be depicted as put-off by outsiders. Lorne Greene pointed out to the producers that as one of the region's most affluent timber and livestock producers, they had better moderate their clannishness. The producers agreed with this observation and changed the Cartwrights to be more amiable.
Early in the show's history, the thrice widowed Ben Cartwright, recalls each wife in flashback episodes. A recurring situation (which also occurs in the TV western The Big Valley), was that every time one of the Cartwrights became seriously involved with a woman, she died from a malady, was slain, or left with someone else. As with all hit programs, disturbing a successful formula could be a major blunder.

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