September 7, 2010 / 10:37 PM / 7 years ago

Creator of TV western "Bonanza" dead at 93

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.

In the fall of 1961, NBC shifted the show to 9 p.m. Sundays, and it became a huge success.

“Bonanza” was canceled in 1973, a year after the beloved Blocker, who played Eric “Hoss” Cartwright, died unexpectedly after complications from gall bladder surgery.

Dortort went on to produce several “Bonanza” spinoffs including “Bonanza: The Next Generation” (1988), a prequel for cable network Pax TV and other Old West-based projects.

Before “Bonanza,” Dortort wrote episodes for such series as “Lassie,” “The Restless Gun,” “Climax!” and “Waterfront” and contributed to the screenplay for the 1952 Nicholas Ray film “The Lusty Men.”

A three-time Emmy nominee, he got his start as a producer on “Restless Gun.”

Editing by Zorianna Kit and Steve Gorman

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