Follow TV Tropes


Series / Bonanza

Go To
The cover of the Ponderosa Party Time LP album, released in 1962. Yes, the cast sings on it.
"The claim we hold is good as gold, Bonanza!
Hand in hand, we built this land, the Ponderosa Ranch!
Our birthright is this Cartwright bonanza!
We here belong and standing strong, wrong ain't got a chance!
Day by day, work or play, ready side by side
Hello, friend, come on in, the gate is open wide
Bound to be a fightin' free bonanza
Singing pines of boundary lines for the Ponderosa Ranch!
— Lyrics from Johnny Cash's version of the iconic theme song

Archetypal television western which was broadcast between 1959 and 1973, Bonanza told the story of the Cartwright family, owners of a vast ranch called the Ponderosa:

Beyond the core cast of Cartwrights, the program had a vast ensemble of regulars and recurrers numbering literally in the hundreds, including at times such current and future famous names as James Coburn, Tim Matheson, Jack Elam, Buddy Ebsen, Mariette Hartley, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, George Kennedy, Bruce Dern, Bonnie Bedelia, Dawn Wells, Wayne Newton, Majel Barrett, James Doohan and DeForest Kelley. Beyond the big name guest stars, there were rarely one-off characters on Bonanza — almost every character ever seen, even bad guys, made appearances in at least two episodes; and even nameless extras in the background (such as "Blonde Saloon Girl" and "Brunette Saloon Girl") could and did have multi-year runs playing their characters. In fact, between the length of its time on the air and the scope of its storylines, Bonanza was virtually a gateway series for talent both new and established looking for television credits.

More than just a "shoot-em-up" horse opera, Bonanza first exploited and then explored the clichés of The Western, eventually evolving into something more than its origins might have suggested it was capable of.

Aired and produced by NBC, in 1973 the network sold its syndication division, NBC Films, to National Telefilm Associates, who assumed rights to Bonanza at that point. NTA became known as Republic Pictures in 1985, and merged with Spelling Entertainment Group in 1994, causing syndication rights to be transferred to Worldvision Enterprises. Spelling merged with Viacom in 1999, which led Paramount Television to take over rights to the series, followed by CBS Studios following the split of Viacom in 2006 (the two companies have since reunited to become what is now Paramount Global). While CBS Studios continues to own the underlying rights to Bonanza (through its in-name-only unit Spelling Television) to this day, the copyrights to most episodes remain owned by NBC through its current parent company NBCUniversal; a handful of early episodes fell into the public domain after NBC failed to renew the copyrights in time.

Bonanza provides examples of:

  • Action Dad: Ben Cartwright isn't afraid to get into his share of fights.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: See Chinese Laborer.
  • Badass Bookworm: Adam Cartwright is the one with the formal education and book knowledge, but he can still more than hold his own in a fight.
  • Badass Family: The Cartwrights.
  • Bar Brawl: A staple of the Bucket of Blood saloon. It was also the climax of "The Fighters," at the Silver Dollar.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Little Joe grows one after the death of his wife Alice in "Forever". Once she's avenged, he shaves it off, indicating the end of his sorrow and overcoming some of his pain, but he has a touching moment where he stands beside the cross marking her grave and tells her, "I love you", proving that this death is not going to be one he shakes off and it will stay with him forever.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Do not mess with Hoss's pictures of his late mother Inger. Any harm done to them will be met with a fist. And unbridled rage that even has the power to reverberate through amnesia.
      Hoss: PICK THAT UP.
    • Don't insult Hop Sing's cooking.
    • Any threat waged on the Cartwright sons will immediately provoke their father Ben into action.
    • Stealing a girl from resident hotheads Little Joe or Candy (sometimes inflicted upon each other) is a sure way to cause a brawl.
    • Doing anything to remind Griff of the hostile environment of his corrupt imprisonment will get him on the defensive.
    • A more subdued example, but trying to prove you're a bigger man than Adam will lead to old-fashioned fisticuffs to duke it out and see who's really fit to lead. In one case, it was practically an instance of "King of the Mountain" when he challenged lumberjacks working for his father to overthrow the "bull of the woods" while Ben was overcome with grief over the accidental death of one of his elderly workers that he personally felt and for which he blamed himself.
    • And don't ever tell Joe that the Cartwrights are yellow.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • Hoss is a major example. Kind as can be, an animal lover, and a child's best friend. But to someone up to no good, he's a beast.
    • Hop Sing is an even scarier example. Normally a peaceful and joyful man, if you pick a fight with him, you're snookered. He knows martial arts and he can swiftly down a man twice his size before they even have a chance to lay hands on him! The prequel series to Bonanza took this aspect of him up to eleven.
  • Big Eater: Hoss Cartwright.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: Hoss and Little Joe.
  • Bounty Hunter
  • Broomstick Quarterstaff: Little Joe fences with an umbrella in the pilot episode.
  • Burn Baby Burn:
    • The notorious map burning at the start of the opening credits.
    • The 1970 season opener, "The Night Virginia City Died," featured plenty of fire... the burning of old buildings by an arsonist, that is. The fires were a way to explain the move of filming the series from Paramount to the new Warner Bros. studios.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: This is pointed out verbatim about Little Joe in "Calamity Over the Comstock", although usually he doesn't appear to have a problem.
  • Cartwright Curse:
  • Catapult Nightmare: Little Joe has one in "The Quality of Mercy".
  • Cattle Baron:
    • A rare protagonist example of the trope, the Cartwright family are stated to have a 640,000 acre spread and a few hundred permanent (though rarely seen) employees. Moving a few thousand head of cattle to new pastures is a morning's work, and the Nevada mining industry was nearly crippled by Ben's refusal to cut and sell more lumber than he was already providing.
    • Ben easily could completely control the local cattle farming industry with his wealth but sternly chooses not to, a point driven home in a 1967 episode "The Price of Salt," where a greedy rancher named Cash Talbot tries to tempt Ben into entering into a partnership with him and drive the price of salt so high it would bankrupt the other farmers. Ben refuses and, after calling him out, ultimately uses his own wealth to foil Talbot's plan; he was willing to take a loss — one he could relatively easily afford — to keep the smaller, family farmers in business... unlike Talbot, Ben recognized these smaller farmers were the backbone and future of the business.
  • Cattle Drive: Several episodes used this as the main plot — usually, Ben or someone dealing with rustlers, trying to resolve a problem within a short time, etc. — or to frame a completely different story. More than once, when an episode focused exclusively on just one or two of the Cartwrights or other regulars and they didn't need the others around, the character would invariably explain that the missing Cartwrights were "away on a cattle drive" (with the given actor either not appearing at all or appearing just briefly at the beginning or end).
  • The Charmer: Little Joe in spades.
  • Chinese Laborer: Complete with Asian Speekee Engrish.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Some characters are never seen nor heard from again.
  • Cold Open: Most episodes before Season 14 would start before the title sequence. In Season 14, the final season, the title sequence was revamped so that the credits play over the episode footage, allowing for more content to be shot in lieu of an abbreviated run. This style transferred over to Michael Landon's subsequent series and Spiritual Successor to Bonanza (right down to recycled storylines that Landon himself had helped with or written himself on Bonanza) which fully premiered later that same year, Little House on the Prairie.
  • Cool Old Guy: Ben Cartwright prefers to stay at home and act as Mission Control to his sons, but when the chips are down he can fight, shoot and work just as well as his boys.
  • Cousin Oliver:
    • Jamie Hunter Cartwright (Mitch Vogel) was added at the beginning of the 1970-1971 season, rounding out the Cartwrights where Adam once did. As the character of Little Joe began maturing throughout the 1960s, he began to be too old to take Ben's intended-for-teenagers fatherly advice (his actor Michael Landon's aging becomes apparent when his hair suddenly grays and grows out long, and his chin starts to sag). This, and the need to maintain interest among younger viewers, justified Jamie's arrival on the Ponderosa. (To be fair, the series continued to be a top 20 hit for two more seasons, with the real dooming catalysts being Dan Blocker's death and a move of the series to Tuesday evenings from its longtime Sunday night home.)
    • New addition Griff King (Tim Matheson) in the final season, a parolee, served as one to help make up for the loss of Hoss.
    • Candy Canaday (David Canary) started out as a Suspiciously Similar Substitute for Adam when Pernell Roberts left the show, but then Candy evolved into a unique character of his own right. When his character left the show in 1970 following a contract dispute, Jamie took his place, until Dan Blocker suddenly died and Michael Landon asked David Canary to come back to help fill the void.
  • Cowboy: Naturally, seeing as the Cartwrights own the largest cattle ranch in Nevada.
  • Charles Dickens: Appears in the episode "A Passion for Justice".
  • Credits Gag: Subtle ones. In the end credits for many years (and the opening credits in some early years), they would show drawings of people living in Old West times, doing things the way the credit listed would have done. Such as showing an old man with a fiddle for "music by" (on another drawing, the Livingston-Evans song would accompany a pianist), a man reading a book called Bonanza for the writing credits, or an old fashioned Daguerreotype camera for "director of photography". The last picture would be of a showgirl on a curtained stage (this picture was the only one used in the final two seasons).
  • Criminal Doppelgänger: All four of the Cartwrights have at least one.
    • Joe has two: Shorty Slade from "The Gunmen", and Angus Borden from "Alias Joe Cartwright".
    • Ben's "criminal twin" was a con artist named Bradley Meredith, whose schemes to gain control of the Ponderosa (usually through gambling) come when Ben is out of the area on business. The two episodes featuring Meredith aired as season finales in 1971 and 1972 (with another planned for 1973, had the series continued), and Ben always arrives back home in time to gather enough ammunition to run Bradley out.
  • Crusading Widow:
    • In one of the most tragic moments in the entire series, Joe Cartwright gets married in the final season and has his pregnant wife murdered all because she had a deadbeat brother who incurred the wrath of an angry gambler, taking revenge on her to hurt him by proxy, ultimately taking both their lives and an unborn one. Joe absolutely lost it and pursed his family's killer alongside Candy until the man was dead and gone.
    • "Shanklin" is all about how an ex-confederate lost his family in the Civil War under tragic circumstances and was forced to become a criminal to survive. When invading the Cartwright ranch, Hoss gets shot in a gunfight and the episode is spent with the rest of his family present trying to get a doctor to tend him while Shanklin holds everyone hostage and bemoans his own fate. However, because he shoots Hoss and also shows contempt toward all walks of life and unwillingness to turn his own life around, it's hard to feel sorry for him. Naturally, he ends up dead in the closing minutes of the episode when he himself gets shot and there's no one to save him.
  • Cultured Badass: The Cartwrights. For all their salt-of-the-earthiness and willingness to get their hands dirty, the Cartwrights have fashionable town-clothes, a large, lavishly but tastefully decorated home and modern, expensive weapons. Ben Cartwright is also partial to fine French wines, Château Lafite in particular.
  • Cut Short: Season 14 has a very abbreviated run (only 16 episodes) compared to all the other seasons due to the death of Dan Blocker resulting in the termination of a huge chunk of episodes centered around Hoss- without him, they couldn't be produced. This also was the killing blow for Bonanza itself, as Blocker's sudden demise caused a production delay that kept the season from airing at its intended time, and got the show kicked to a weaker time slot that led to its downfall when it fell out of the top 30 most-watched programs of the year. Fortunately, it saw several sequel movie installments, though with a new generation of Cartwrights as more of the original cast passed away. The last season is also messily organized with the introduction of Griff King five episodes in and his character appearing in the opening title sequences in episodes before his chronological debut.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Adam's main outfit is completely black, occasionally with a splash of color, and he's probably the broodiest of the bunch. Yet he's still loyal to his family and won't hesitate to help anyone in need.
  • A Day in the Limelight: "The Lonely Man" focuses on Hop Sing (and shows that The Cartwright Curse rubbed off on him). "Mark of Guilt" also has Hop Sing play a much larger role than usual, but this story is also heavily focused on acquitting Joe of a murder charge by disproving circumstantial evidence with fingerprints.
  • A Death in the Limelight: All of Ben's deceased wives get one in the form of an episode titled "[insert name here], My Love". Inger is the one exception, as her story is told in two episodes, and the "My Love" episode is about how Ben met her. The follow-up episode next season reveals how Hoss was born and how Inger got killed.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Adam is typically the one to take on this role.
  • Death Glare:
    • Ben Cartwright is quite skilled in death glares; a particularly outstanding one can be seen in the final scene of "The Gift".
    • Damion from "Forever" had a tremendously scary one, as it radiated with nothing but coldblooded murderous intention and usually preceded his merciless wrath.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Hoss and Arnie become fast friends in The Ape after fighting to a draw. Due to a misunderstanding, neither one of them knew what they were actually fighting over.
  • Distant Finale: The sequel movies which serve as a spiritual finale to the original series feature the descendants and relatives of the main Cartwrights, showing that their legacy in the West will continue on even when the brood we once saw running the Ponderosa has dwindled away.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Ben is occasionally seen with one, as befits both a patriarch and a former sailor.
  • Distressed Dude: All the Cartwrights have found themselves held hostage at some point. Little Joe is certainly the worst offender.
  • Downer Ending: It's not uncommon in dramatic episodes for a good character to die within the last minute of the episode's runtime.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The Cartwrights in the early episodes often confronted strangers in the Ponderosa in a hostile fashion with guns drawn. Lorne Greene convinced the producers that since the Cartwrights are such major landowners and a major business interest in the region, they logically would be more hospitable to visitors for economic, social and political purposes. One can only assume this was back in the days when they didn't feel settled in and comfortable on the Ponderosa yet.
    • The Cartwrights used to wear a variety of outfits until it became more economic to reuse stock footage of them riding around the West, so their outfits were simplified to Limited Wardrobe for the most part aside from some slight variation.
  • Evil Uncle: Inger's brother Gunnar.
  • Family Business: The Ponderosa
  • Fastest Gun in the West: Little Joe has an exceptional quick draw.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Many of the Villain of the Week displayed this, with Gerald Eskith being a notable example.
  • Feuding Families: The Mahans and the Clarks in "Blessed Are They". The Cartwrights get themselves into somewhat similar situation in "The Spitfire," when Little Joe is forced to kill an arsonist squatter on the Ponderosa in self-defence and the rest of his family goes after the Cartwrights.
  • Forgotten Theme Tune Lyrics: Executive producer David Dortort never took a liking to the lyrics for the main theme, so they were never used on the show, but they did get used in the official soundtracks. Here's a sample:
    "We chased lady luck, 'til we finally struck Bonanza.
    "With a gun and a rope and a hat full of hope, planted a family tree.
    "We got hold of a pot of gold, Bonanza.
    "With a horse and a saddle, and a range full of cattle,
    "How rich can a fellow be?"
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Happens frequently, often, and at least twice to each of the main characters, although the altar isn't always reached by the time it's called off. Justified a little by the fact marriages often did occur with haste back in the 1800s.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble:
    • Ben = Choleric
    • Adam = Melancholic
    • Hoss = Phlegmatic
    • Little Joe = Sanguine
  • Frontier Doctor: Paul Martin.
  • Funny Foreigner: The Chinese Laborer Hop Sing — though nowaday, not so much.
  • The Gambling Addict:
    • Helen Layton, who'd driven her husband to drink himself to death over her gambling debts, and latched onto Hoss as her new sugar daddy. When she was exposed, she left town with another man.
    • In the 1972-1973 season premiere "Forever", Little Joe's tragic bride Alice Harper has a brother, John, who is a hopeless gambling addict on the run from a ruthless gambler named Sloan. Sloan and his henchmen kill both John and Alice when they break into the home of Joe and Alice Cartwright (when Joe wasn't home) in an attempt to collect the debt.
  • Gentle Giant: Hoss Cartwright.
  • Ghost Town: A literal one, in one episode.
  • Good Stepmother: The episodes which flash back to when Ben was married to his second wife Inger show that she was this to little Adam; she speaks of him quite fondly and, while pregnant with Hoss, expresses her hope that he will enjoy being a big brother.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Frequently, and often turns out to be the same dress.
  • Grand Finale: Zig-zagged with "Forever". It sets up Little Joe's final departure from the Ponderosa after he suffers a loss so great that it has made it too painful to keep living on that land. It is also the most dramatic and arguably most memorable story of the last season, and made TV Guide's top 100 TV episodes list. Oddly, it was aired first, to address the death of Dan Blocker, but the tone and nature of the story makes it more appropriate to be aired last as a Grand Finale because it sets forth a Mood Whiplash for the remainder of the season's episodes, which don't come anywhere close to the emotion faced in this one except for the last one aired.
  • Green Aesop: Quite frequently. The Cartwrights take their stewardship of their land seriously, refusing to allow activities that are not sustainable (such as over-logging) and it's shown in multiple episodes that whenever they cut down a tree, they plant a new one to replace it.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: Little Joe in "The First Born" after he and Clay get drunk off pulque.
  • Henpecked Husband: Enos Milford in "The Hayburner".
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Lotta Crabtree, a young actress from the first episode. Though she wasn't really evil to begin with, she was originally hired by a gang of crooks into seducing Little Joe so they can take the Cartwright property for themselves. However, her feelings for him were genuine. This causes her to feel guilt and remorse for her role in the plot, and is even willing to go against her employers in order to help Joe escape. She is later seen at the end attending a dance with him and enjoying herself.
  • Historical In-Joke: A few.
    • The Cartwrights were directly involved with the invention of the honeycomb timbering for silver mines and the water pumping windmill.
    • In an early episode, gold prospectors were complaining about the blue clay that was gumming up their equipment — it was never revealed in-story that it was silver ore.
    • Real life historical figures from the West - like Mark Twain, Albert Michelson, and Emperor Norton - would make guest appearances. Chronologcally, their presence in the show is reasonably accurate historically. Twain's first appearance coincides with the time he was working as a newspaperman in Virginia City, Nevada. Michelson is shown as a young Jewish schoolboy from Germany in the same town, subject to antisemitism, which he was in real life. Michelson also gets an extra coda showing what he did in real life.
  • Hollywood Healing: Considering the number of times Little Joe was shot/stabbed/trampled by horses/otherwise injured over the course of the series, it's amazing his body was still functional. And let's not even talk about how none of those injuries so much as even left a scar.
  • Horseback Heroism
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: "The Hunter," the final episode of the series.
  • Improvised Weapon: Little Joe fencing with an umbrella in "A Rose for Lotta".
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: An absolute classic example of this trope.
  • Internalized Categorism: In "The Burning Sky," a new ranch hand at the Ponderosa has a Sioux wife. A number of men in the town are angry about this, especially one Aaron Gore. It's eventually revealed that Gore's mother was Sioux, and he got so sick of being called a "half-breed" that he hates all Native Americans. He goes so far as to abuse his stepson for befriending the woman, but eventually realizes his self-hatred is destroying him and arranges for the boy to be cared for so that he can try to heal.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The motorized car in "The Infernal Machine".
  • Just a Flesh Wound
  • The Lad-ette: Calamity Jane.
  • Limited Wardrobe: From about the third season onward, the main characters wore the same costume in just about every episode. This was done to cut the cost of re-filming action shots (such as riding clips in-between scenes), as previously-shot stock footage could be reused.
  • Long-Lost Uncle Aesop: Many episodes.
  • Long-Runners: The series ran for 14 seasons, making it the second longest running Western series after Gunsmoke at 20 seasons.
  • Loud Sleeper Gag: One episode has Ben Cartwright unable to sleep because of noise around the house, which includes Hoss's snoring. As a result, Ben decides to sleep in a hotel instead, but other guests keep him up.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Shanklin in the titular episode repeatedly calls Hoss "Bull Hoss" for surviving his bullet wounds, but applies the moniker in a spiteful manner.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Visitors to Virginia City from the east are frequently these.
  • Meaningful Name: Eric Cartwright is better known by his nickname, Hoss, which was chosen by his older brother Adam when he was a baby. His mother, Inger, went along with it, noting that "In the mountain country, that is the name for a big, friendly man." Hoss grew up to be exactly that.
  • Minimalist Cast: The final aired episode, "The Hunter", is a very simple story that runs on psychological drama where Joe is relentlessly hunted by a demented man and you hear the inner thoughts and monologues of their characters in the heat of action. There are scant appearances by anyone else but these two characters.
  • Missing Mom: Not just one would do, as all three of Ben's wives died not long after giving birth to each son.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Adam, Joe, and Candy. The last two in particular spend a lot of time working shirtless.
  • Monkey Morality Pose: Hoss, Joe, and Adam pull this pose in "Ponderosa Matador".
  • Mountain Man: Jim Leyton.
  • Never Going Back to Prison: Hoss once took in a prison escapee who was obsessed with never going back.
  • Never Learned to Read: Child, in the episode "Child," was illiterate. Sadly, this means he went a long time not knowing what his name was (and going by "Child" because that's what everyone called him) until Hoss read the inscription in his Bible - his real name is Joshua, fittingly a Biblical name. Unfortunately, he doesn't live long enough to make much good use of it, but at least he willed the Bible to a good man.
  • Nice Guy: All of the Cartwrights fall into this, but particularly Hoss. According to people who worked on the set, it was also true of his actor, Dan Blocker, who got along with everybody.
  • Non-Idle Rich: The Cartwrights are the wealthiest people in Virginia City, but they're frequently seen doing menial labor around the ranch.
  • Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon:
    • In one episode, Hoss get framed for murder when the blank rounds from a prop gun get switched for real bullets and the blanks turn up in his saddle bag.
    • During a friendly fencing match, the button covering the point comes off and Joe is very nearly stabbed.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • Candy's given name is never revealed.
    • Additionally, Hoss is very seldom referred to as "Eric".
  • Outlaw: Plenty make appearances throughout the series.
  • Papa Wolf: Ben Cartwright, especially toward Little Joe.
  • Paranormal Episode: In "Twilight Town", Little Joe's horse is stolen and he stumbles, more dead than alive, into Martensville. At first the place appears to be a ghost town, but Joe wakes up to find it inhabited. The inhabitants are, in fact, the long cursed souls of the townspeople who stood by as the sheriff was murdered for trying to stand up to a gang of outlaws using the town as their base. They're waiting for someone to arrive to take the job of sheriff, lead them in a fight against the outlaws, and break the curse...
  • The Patriarch: Ben Cartwright.
  • Pony Express Rider: Little Joe becomes one in "Ride the Wind".
  • Poorly-Disguised Pilot:
    • "Sam Hill" starring Claude Akins, a blacksmith who reunites with his long lost father. It was intended to jumpstart a spinoff series but it never materialized.
    • "The Avenger," though not as overt as "Sam Hill" was.
  • Posse: All the main characters have been in one at some point.
  • Pretty Boy: Little Joe.
  • Prim and Proper Bun: Amanda in "Ponderosa Birdman" wears her hair "like a schoolmarm."
  • Pro Wrestling Episode: "Old Sheba".
  • Puddle-Covering Chivalry: Attempted in "The Wooing of Abigail Jones". It does not work out as planned.
  • Put on a Bus: When Pernell Roberts left the show, his character Adam was said to have moved to Australia, and then almost never mentioned again.
  • Race Lift: The real Virginia City was a popular destination for freedmen escaping the South, especially during the time the show was set. Yet few blacks were ever shown on Bonanza, even as walk-ons. Pernell Roberts said he left the show in part specifically because of the Race Lift.
  • Rancher: The Cartwrights and all the cowboys on the Ponderosa.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Dan Blocker's death in the last season.
  • Really Gets Around: Little Joe is either seen or mentioned to be involved with upwards of fifty women over the course of the show, and his reputation as a reckless ladies' man gets him into trouble quite a bit in the earlier seasons.
  • Rearrange the Song: The driving, rock-oriented version of the theme song heard in later seasons, circa the last episodes of Season 9, followed by two more mixes in Season 12-13 and Season 14.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: Unusually for the time, averted - every episode had an original score (mostly by David Rose, although his scores tended to avoid the theme song by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans). Combined with it being filmed in color from first show to last (a rarity for a series which began in 1959 note ), it must have cost NBC a fortune. Safe to say they've made their money back now, however.
  • Remember the New Guy? / New Neighbours as the Plot Demands: Marriette Blaine is like a sister to them! Why haven't we seen her before?
  • Replaced the Theme Tune: Yes, it happened; creator/executive producer David Dortort never much liked the Livingston-Evans theme song thanks to its lyrics (which is why they were never heard on the show). He asked his composer of choice, David Rose, to write a new theme - it was used for seasons 12 and 13 before viewer demand led to the first song coming back for the final season.
  • Retcon: Little Joe's mother was named Felicia in the series pilot, but her name was later changed to Marie.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: John Harper, Alice's estranged brother in "Forever", gets cornered by the psychopathic Damion for running up a huge gambling debt of $5,000. Fearing for his life, John squeals on the Cartwrights and his newlywed and pregnant sister that they have the money to pay him off. Damion promptly corners Alice while her husband, Joe, is away, and John angers Damion. After ignoring his warning and laying hands on him, Damion puts a bullet in his gut, and he bleeds to death. Then, after Alice puts up resistance, he uses his brutish henchman Mr. Harley to make an example out of her and he murders her, and by extension, the unborn child inside of her. Then, the group burns down the homestead before Joe even had the chance to finish the baby's room. Even worse, when the authorities fish out the bodies of Alice and John, they at least recognize Alice's. John's is burnt beyond recognition. The Cartwrights bury her and erect a grave for the late Alice Cartwright, but because she rejected her brother, they had nothing to do with him and never learned he was dead because neither did the authorities, so his body was hauled off to be disposed of. That's right - he doesn't even get a grave to remember him by, because he doesn't deserve one. We also don't know if he died instantly from the gunshot wound, but he surely did when the homestead went up in flames, while Alice was already a goner. In other words, his sister went to Heaven while he burned in Hell.
  • Running Gag: Several...
    • Little Joe just can't seem to keep his feet off the table.
    • Hoss often can't remember which word he's looking for, and will look to Joe for help. Once happens while the two characters are debating; Little Joe provides Hoss with the word he's looking for, then they jump right back into the debate.
    • A lot of people seem to think "Candy" is a funny name. He doesn't seem to mind.
    • In the episode "The Flapjack Contest", poor Little Joe just cannot stop breaking windows.
  • Scare Chord: Frequently used when a character pulls out a gun.
  • Serial Romeo: All the Cartwrights have a tendency to consider the girl of the week to be the love of their life.
  • The Seven Western Plots: The definitive ranch story, following the Cartwright family's running of the Ponderosa, a huge ranch. It would also qualify as an empire story given the sheer amount of land they own, except for the fact that Ben refuses to control the local cattle farming industry despite having the resources to do so.
  • The Sheriff: Roy Coffee.
  • Shirtless Scene: All the Cartwright men and Candy get their fair share.
  • Shot at Dawn: Narrowly avoided in "Alias Joe Cartwright".
  • Shot in the Ass: Little Joe gets shot "right in the middle of the Ponderosa."
  • Shout-Out: Frank Zappa covered the theme from this show on his album The Best Band You Heard In Your Life (1988).
  • Single Tear: Michael Landon excelled at these, so it's really no surprise that Little Joe favors this method of showing emotion.
  • Sinister Whistling: In the episode "Justice Deferred", a man named Frank Scott is hanged for strangling a woman to death. But it turns out the real killer is Mel Barnes, who is the spitting image of Scott, and has a habit of whistling "On Top Of Old Smokey". Used as a plot point as it identifies him as the true culprit.
  • The Stoic: Adam, usually.
  • Stout Strength: Hoss.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Little Joe and Amy Bishop, naturally, as the episode was intended as a bit of a Romeo and Juliet retelling.
  • Straw Vulcan: Gerald Eskith, from the episode Badge Without Honor, talks a lot about how emotions are the cause of most problems. In his dying moments, he laments that he was defeated by emotion.
  • Syndication Title: Ponderosa.
  • Temporary Blindness:
    • Joe in "The Stillness Within".
    • Tessa Caldwell in "Bullet for a Bride".
  • Temporary Love Interest: Virtually every woman the Cartwrights came in contact with, usually because they would die by the end of the episode, or fall for someone else, or turn out to be slime, or just plain call things off and leave. The only cast member who got a lasting love interest was Will Cartwright, who was only around for the latter half of Season 5 and scooped up Adam's love interest because his actor decided to stay on for another season when it was planned to marry him off and have him leave at the end of it. Even Hop Sing is subjected to this, as "The Lonely Man" cruelly proves.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Alice Harper-Cartwright, a kind and gentle woman who had the monstrous luck of being saddled with a sinful brother whose gambling mania drove their mother, himself, and her and her unborn baby to an early grave. Father Harper didn't even get a mention, so one wonders if he's really to blame for rubbing off on his son.
  • Wall of Weapons: A literal wall in the Ponderosa living room with a dozen or so guns lined on it.
  • The Western
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Little Joe is terrified of heights.
  • The Wild West
  • The Worf Effect: Joe is subjected to this when Gerald Eskith wins a fencing match against him.
  • World's Strongest Man: Hercules in "The Abduction".
  • You Killed My Father: The driving motivation in "The Legacy".