Pernell Roberts sued ABC for using an unauthorized clip of him in 'Bonanza'

"They asked for permission to use it, and I refused because they weren't going to pay me for it," Roberts revealed. "They used it anyway. What arrogance!"

Pernell Roberts did something that many actors are afraid to do: leave a popular series for the sake of his emotional health. There were a lot of speculations and rumors about why the actor chose to depart from Bonanza after six seasons.

Some of the press created bizarre rumors about the situation, and others thought Roberts was crazy for leaving a career-defining role. He played Adam Cartwright, the eldest son of Ben Cartwright, who was different from his younger brothers. Adam was educated and an architectural engineer.

With the significant success Bonanza saw, even after Roberts' departure, why did he sue ABC in 1979? Well, he told the network they did not have permission to use a clip of him in the show as promotional content, even though they owned the rights to the series.

In an interview with The Pittsburg Press, years after his departure, Roberts revealed why he left and what impacted his decision to sue the network.

"The Bonanza situation was not the most fulfilling of my life. I had to regroup emotionally," he said to The Pittsburg Press editor Barbara Holsopple in an interview in Hollywood. "I needed to get into a different environment for a while, so I concentrated on regional theatre."

Before he transitioned to television, Roberts was a stage actor, and the switch seemed challenging for the actor.

"I just didn't enjoy Bonanza anymore. My contract was up, and I left," he added. "It became joyless, boring, and predictable, and I had to get away. But I never said those things people said I said."

He did criticize the show in a manner that most people thought was harsh, but he believed that his words were twisted to fit a negative narrative.

With such strong feelings toward the western series, it makes sense that he was against his name, likeness, and image being used regarding the show. So when ABC asked if they could use a clip of him in their cowboy reunion show, When the West Was Fun, he said no.

"They asked for permission to use it, and I refused because they weren't going to pay me for it," Roberts revealed. "They used it anyway. What arrogance! What's why I'm suing."

It's not known whether he won the case or not.

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30 Comments

zorob150 1 month ago
ABC did not own the series Bonanza it was an NBC production. There is a law in the entertainment business that if you use the likeness of someone that you must get their permission and pay them. I don't blame her for turning it down so did Ben and little Joe. As a matter of fact Ross Martin and Robert Conrad turned it down to for the wild wild West. They were going to make money from this the network and the producers so pay the actors. You got to look out for yourself
JohnnyWalker 9 months ago
Pernell Roberts has always come off as arrogant and unappreciatelive for what Bonanza did for him and his career. Without Bonanza he would have been a ghost...never heard of. All he has been is critical of the show. He acted as if he was above it all. Too good for one of the most popular shows of all time...instead of thankful and appreciative. He wasn't that darn wonderful in the first place. He was good but geez...get over yourself.
cperrynaples 16 months ago
Actually, ABC is the one network that has NEVER owned Bonanza! It was produced by NBC and currently owned by CBS! In fact, several MeTV broadcasts of Bonanza end with both the NBC snake and the CBS eye!
MattAlbrecht 19 months ago
I have also read somewhere that he was having some issues with Michael Landon, yeah well Michael Landon died Pernell was one of the first people to come out and say something and express his condolences to the family. I thought it was a nice touch
MattAlbrecht 19 months ago
Um, wasn't the show on nbc?
LoveMETV22 MattAlbrecht 18 months ago
Um , Bonanza was on NBC. It was ABC that wanted to use clips of him to promote their new show,
" When the West Was Fun", on their network, to which Pernell said No.
HerbF 19 months ago
It's not known whether he won the case or not.

This article is a poor research job as lawsuits are public record, plus the "interns" at MeTV who write these articles should have access to weekly (if not daily) back issues of Variety and Hollywood Reporter - either microfilm or hard-bound from the main branch of the Chicago Public Library - easy to look up...unless these millennials don't know how to use a library or a library card...so they should have been able to find out what the results of the lawsuit was.
MaryMitch HerbF 18 months ago
So, why don't you do the research and let us know? I'd be interested.
JoeGuenther 19 months ago
It's an NBC show. Not ABC.
LoveMETV22 JoeGuenther 19 months ago
" When the West was Fun " was an ABC production in 1979. ABC wanted to use a clip from his time on Bonanza (NBC) without his permission.
MaryHelen 19 months ago
court soc are public record-- someone should look up the case and find out if he won or lost
MichaelFields 19 months ago
Normally if the studio has the rights to the show and you filmed content for the show, you do not have rights, so they can use it anywhere and how they want to, UNLESS it is in your contract that says you have to be notified and paid for any extra content, but most likely he lost. And have you noticed that stars who leave a popular show, you really NEVER hear from again and they never get the same status as they had while on the show
LoveMETV22 MichaelFields 19 months ago
The story is talking about two different networks (NBC), when Pernell was with Bonanza and
ABC who was making " When the West Was Fun," and wanted to use his likeness to promote their new program. Not sure if ABC owned his rights from another network though.
rikkirat 19 months ago
Hey it’s PITTSBURGH not Pittsburg. Pittsburg is a city In California. PITTSBURGH was once home to a daily newspaper called the PITTSBURGH Press.
bruceisloose rikkirat 19 months ago


From Pittsburgh, PA
LoveMETV22 rikkirat 19 months ago
"The Bonanza situation was not the most fulfilling of my life. I had to regroup emotionally," he said to The Pittsburg Press editor Barbara Holsopple in an interview in 𝗛𝗼𝗹𝗹𝘆𝘄𝗼𝗼𝗱.
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Hollywood is in California. Perhaps they were referring to the city "𝗣𝗶𝘁𝘁𝘀𝗯𝘂𝗿𝗴," in California.
Xsquid LoveMETV22 19 months ago
A google search pulls up references to her with the pittsburgh press.
LoveMETV22 Xsquid 19 months ago
A google image search shows it spelt both ways. Guess without seeing the actual article it could have been either.
Runeshaper 19 months ago
I probably would’ve sued too!
JoeGuenther Runeshaper 19 months ago
I would have quit after less than a year.
MichaelSkaggs 19 months ago
Years later he mellowed and said he shouldn't have been as harsh in talking about the series.
Deleted 19 months ago
This comment has been removed.
justjeff 19 months ago
I always enjoy reading many of your posts where you do a deep dive into a particular topic, because I'm certain that growing up around your father and the various media he worked in gave you some access and overview into many of the subjects you've broached.

At the risk of having asked this before, have you even done any professional screenwriting, acting, producing, etc.?

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Pacificsun 19 months ago
Two separate Posts. First the good one, and maybe not so much.

Am wishing you sincere well-wishes for your current challenges as you've shared. If you do live in Florida, good golly Miss Molly weather-wise! It's down right dangerous not too mention darned inconvenient. We're California puff-balls out here, and we whine when the temperature drops below a balmy 75 degrees. I won't even broach the subject of wet weather, drought or deluge we're never happy.

Am hoping your return to wellness is accompanied by interesting distractions, encouragement and the company of pleasant support! You're a valuable contributor who is always worthy of a reply! 🦃
Steve2021 19 months ago
Parnell became Trapper John in the TV series.
MaryHelen Steve2021 19 months ago
and he guest stareed on many show- can still be seen in the reruns today. i watch a lot of reruns and he was NOT unsuccessful!!
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