You probably didn't know Michael Landon grabbed The Little House on the Prairie theme song from this Bonanza episode

We heard the famous theme song three years earlier on Bonanza.

The biggest fans of Bonanza might recall this episode from the 12th season that actually contains a surprising bit of TV theme song history. 

The 1971 Bonanza episode "Top Hand" is about a power struggle the erupts when another rancher's foreman takes a crack at stealing away a major cattle-driving job that the Cartwrights' foreman is already handling. It begins with a large herd of cattle being steered across a river, through a valley, over a plain, and into a pen at the ranch.

In this seemingly unassuming opening scene, the emotional tone of the episode is only really established by a soaring song that plays throughout the scene. Composed by David Rose, this music is instantly recognizable to fans of a different 1970s TV drama.

Over the sound of cows groaning through a crashing whitewater river, this opening scene would become the first time we'd hear what would become the famous theme song of Landon's later series The Little House on the Prairie. (Watch the video at the top of this post to hear the song on Bonanza.)

Of course, Landon carried over many things from Bonanza when he launched his Little House, including a bunch of character actors you'd recognize from both shows. It makes sense then that he would want Rose to score his next show, injecting as much from his Bonanza family as he could into his cherished family drama to great effect.

In the book Michael Landon: The Career and Artistry of a Television Genius, the author notes that Rose occasionally sprinkled other music from Bonanza into Little House on the Prairie, but perhaps nothing stands out so prominently as the "Top Hand" intro scene song that he repurposed as the theme song, three years after we first heard it on TV.

Unsurprisingly, the composer won Emmys for his work on both shows, but it was his music used to underscore the Ingalls girls running (and adorably tripping) down a grassy hill that took on a cult fandom of its own, later parodied on everything from The Jetsons (when they produced new episodes in the 1980s) to Family Guy (several times, but most notably in the 2012 episode "Livin' on a Prayer"), not to mention the seemingly endless references on That '70s Show. It's an unforgettable sequence inextricably carried by Rose's composition.

Now you can trace the roots of that tune back to Bonanza, and the more traditional Western scene that the music was originally composed to score.

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DukeSandefur 1 month ago
I've been immersed in both shows my whole life, it seems, and I did not know this. I did know one of the credited writers of "Top Hand" -- John Hawkins. Along with my father, probably the best writer I ever met and a great man (no offense to dozens of great writers and great men I've known). I have John's ashtray in my office as I type this. He'd be flattered by all this, I'd think.
RobCertSDSCascap 9 months ago
One T.V. theme from the 70s that almost escaped disco influence.
Patricia 9 months ago
Landon also stole several Bonanza storylines for LHOTP and gave himself writing credit. Kind of lost all respect for him at that point. There were plenty of fabulous stories by L.I.Wilder that scripts could have been based on, but Landon took the dishonest and lazy way out.
Skip Patricia 7 months ago
You really need to get your facts straight before you post fake “information” online. Every episode of Bonanza remade for Little House were original stories of Michael Landon. The only episode that wasn’t, “A Matter of Faith” (originally broadcast on Bonanza as “A Matter of Circumstance”), was credited to the original writer B.W. Sandefur, who adapted it for Little House. The only lazy dishonest person is you. No respect for someone who accuses someone else of thievery when she doesn’t have the facts.
DukeSandefur Skip 1 month ago
B.W. Sandefur was my Father. It is absolutely amazing to me that you caught this. I have both scripts in my garage. One thing people don't know about Michael is that he had a strong story mind. He worked with great writers his whole career and it rubbed off. "A Matter of Faith" borrowed strongly from "A Matter of Circumstance" (my favorite Bonanza ever), but obviously it wasn't a direct transplant. I was there when he wrote both.
DukeSandefur Skip 1 month ago
By the way, I'm not sure if you misstated, but LHOP stories were done by a LOT of writers, staff and freelance. Michael fell back on a number of writers from Bonanza because he knew he'd get strong stories. Toward the end of LHOP, I even had the honor to do an episode (based on a true story from my own life). Unknowingly, it bumped one of my Dad's shows off the schedule and that was, I think, one of the prouder moments of his life (though it did cost him some residuals).
DukeSandefur Patricia 1 month ago
I'm not really sure where that perception comes from. Michael could actually write, though he was much stronger on story than teleplay, but he utilized a lot of really good writers on LHOP. As far as stories go, not all the Wilder tales were adaptable, but clearly much was drawn from her work. In fact, much effort was expended to be as true to the characters as was practical. I've adapted some formidable material to screen and sometimes books (or all parts of a book) just don't work 100% in a visual medium.
JDnHuntsvilleAL 9 months ago
Couldn't they have put the "Little House On The Prairie" theme here, too, so we could compare?
Wiseguy JDnHuntsvilleAL 9 months ago
Not if they don't have the rights to it.
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