It took an hour long Western to cut into Perry Mason's ratings

Lorne Greene didn't even know how to ride a horse before Bonanza, but he learned to love it.

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Ben Cartwright wrestles a broken Candy Canaday on Bonanza
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When Bonanza premiered in 1959, the cast and crew knew what they were up against. Television in the early '60s was packed with well-rated and successful TV shows.

The Bonanza cast would have to fight for viewers. 

When the series premiered, there were a variety of established shows already on-air across multiple networks. Some of these included: The Rifleman, Wagon Train, Leave It to Beaver, Highway Patrol and Perry Mason.

Many of these shows were entering their second, third and fourth seasons, including Perry Mason. By 1959, Perry Mason had become one of the most successful TV series, with a 27.5 rating and a rank of 19.

Lorne Greene, who played Ben Cartwright on Bonanza, had just come back from a much-needed vacation after the show's first season wrapped. In a 1960 interview with The Charlotte News, Greene said Bonanza had struggled during its first season.

Greene felt as though they hadn't found their rhythm yet. He admitted that the cast was a bit shaky, due to actors and writers not being familiar with their characters yet. 

"Now we're more cognizant of the characters and we're a little more sure about the kind of people we want to be," Greene said.

Once cast and crew on Bonanza got their rhythm down, the series rose in the ratings. 

"We were only bucking Perry Mason," he said. "It was like going into the ring with the champ every Saturday night. But we did pretty well. I hate to say this in terms of eating into Mason's rating but that's what we've done."

When Bonanza first premiered it had a rating of 11, but soon the series soared to a rating of 27. So, what does that mean?

"I really don't know," Greene said. "But I think we were getting a little over a third of the total audience."

Greene was born in Canada and became a TV Western star by way of the New York City stage. Over time, NBC became impressed with him and he became the obvious choice to play Ben Cartwright.

"I couldn't even ride a horse," he said. "By golly, I can now. Love it too."

No spoilers here, but we all know what happens. Bonanza went on to be one of the longest-running Westerns on TV. 

Watch Bonanza on MeTV!

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10 Comments

Cougar90 12 months ago
In one interview Michael Landon said Dan Blocker was the only one of the four who ride a horse.
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Bricat2001 12 months ago
Don’t forget the politics they are trying to shove down our throats, it’s like all the newer shows have to have some sort of political content in there
iluvwesterns 12 months ago
I completely agree with you Audie. Today's tv is horrible! the sitcoms aren't even funny and the other shows just aren't very well done. i grew up in the 60s and loved so many of the shows we had then. there were some bad ones but most of the tv in those days was watchable by the whole family. i'm sorry you can't get METV where you live. i don't know of any streaming services that carry it.
tootsieg 12 months ago
Very good story! Early 60’s TV was PACKED with well-rated and successful shows.
cperrynaples 12 months ago
It should be noted that Perry beat Bonanza for 2 seasons!It didn't become a hit until it took over Dinah Shore's slot! Perry moved to Sunday for Season 9 and we know what happened...LOL!
madvincent cperrynaples 12 months ago
Perry should have objected to that move.......
cperrynaples madvincent 12 months ago
Well, if you check the unedited version of TCOT Final Fadeout on Freevee, they do make a Bonanza joke! Also, look for a surprize appearance by Barbara Hale as you never saw her!
Cougar90 12 months ago
One of the best written westerns ever made.
iluvwesterns Cougar90 12 months ago
i completly agree with you. the first 5 years were the best but it was still a great show after Adam left.
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