Creator of TV western "Bonanza" dead at 93

Tue Sep 7, 2010 6:35pm EDT
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By Mike Barnes

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - David Dortort, who created "Bonanza," the top-rated western that aired for 14 years on the NBC television network, died September 5 at his Los Angeles home. He was 93.

Debuting in 1959, "Bonanza" was the most-watched show on U.S. television from 1964 to 1967 and maintained a place in the ratings top 10 for a decade.

Dortort also created "The High Chaparral," which originally followed "Bonanza" on Sunday nights on NBC and ran for three seasons.

Dortort pitched "Bonanza" in 1959 as a way of helping to promote the sale of color television sets manufactured by the U.S. electronics company RCA, then the parent company of NBC.

"Bonanza" would be filmed in color in scenic Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and feature a cast of relative unknowns -- Michael Landon, Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker and Pernell Roberts -- as members of the fictional Cartwright family.

Departing from the typical TV western formula of the day that focused on lone gunslingers and drifters, Dortort chose instead to depict the lives and adventures of a widowed rancher and his three sons living together on the Ponderosa Ranch.

"Our scripts delve into character and deal with human relationships, which is where the best stories are. And we try to teach something about human values like faith and hope," the Brooklyn native told Look magazine in 1965.

Bonanza premiered at 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday in September 1959 and initially failed to attract much of an audience going up against "Perry Mason" on U.S. network CBS.   Continued...