In January of 1973, the long-running, Western-themed drama Bonanza was laid to rest after running successfully for over two decades. NBC wished to have a similar family-oriented drama to take its place and commissioned Michael Landon, who played Little Joe on Bonanza, to adapt Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novel Little House on the Prairie into a two-hour pilot for a potential television series. The pilot did well with viewers, and NBC gave the go-ahead for a series. The resulting show, also titled Little House on the Prairie, ran successfully for eight years.
The series told the story of the Ingalls family, who moved to Walnut Grove, Minnesota in hopes of finding success and a new home in a new town. Michael Landon portrayed homesteader Charles Ingalls, patriarch of the Ingalls clan, and his wife was the ever-patient Caroline. They were accompanied by their three daughters: Mary was the eldest, Laura was the middle daughter from whose point-of-view the stories were told, and Carrie was the infant.
Upon their arrival in Walnut Grove, the Ingalls found what author Laura Ingalls Wilder described as a “harvest of friends.” There was fellow farmer Isaiah Edwards, Lars Hanson the mill owner, and the Oleson family: father Nels, his snobby wife Harriet, and their children Nellie and Willie.
For a visual change of scenery in the beginning of the 1978-79 season, the Ingalls, the Olesons, and the kindly Garvey family all moved to Winoka, another Dakota town. But then that same year, everybody moved back. For good family rearin’ and swingin’ square dances, you apparently couldn’t do better than Walnut Grove. The Ingalls adopted Albert, a doe-eyed homeless kid, in 1978, and in the 1981-82 season, the Ingalls also adopted Cassandra and James. Since the eldest of their brood was married and out of the house, Charles and Caroline still needed a few cute little ones scurrying around the homestead, who could get into trouble and then glean their life lesson advice from their still-patient, and ever-wise, patriarch Chuck.
The show’s narrative was serial-like in nature and included several supporting players and frequent guest stars as it conveyed the day-to-day struggles of Ingalls family. The storylines frequently involved much heart-wrenching drama, including several illnesses and natural disasters, but always found the time to emphasize the positive family values that won over the show’s core audience. Michael Landon maintained a tight control over the series, serving as executive producer as well as writing and directing several episodes (co-star and close Landon associate Victor French also directed some episodes).
Landon ceased acting in the show on a regular basis in 1982, although he still produced. The focus of the series shifted to Laura and her husband Almanzo, who remained in Walnut Grove after Charles sold the farm and moved to Iowa with Caroline and their youngest daughters Carrie and Grace. The modified series, retitled Little House: A New Beginning, ran only one more season, and the show ended its run in March of 1983 after 201 episodes.
However, the end of the series did not signify the end of the Ingalls family saga. The story was brought to formal close via a series of three two-hour specials: Little House on the Prairie: Look Back To Yesterday (1983), Little House: The Last Farewell (1984), and Little House: Bless All The Dear Children (1984).
USA / NBC – Ed Friendly Prod. / 5 feature length episodes and 204×60 minute episodes / Broadcast 11 September 1974 – 17 December 1984
Creator/Executive Producer: Michael Landon / Books: Laura Ingalls Wilder / Producers: Michael Landon, John Hawkins, Winston Miller, B.W. Sandefur, William F. Claxton / Theme Music: David Rose
MICHAEL LANDON as Charles Ingalls
KAREN GRASSLE as Caroline Ingalls
MELISSA GILBERT as Laura Ingalls Wilder
MELISSA SUE ANDERSON as Mary Ingalls Kendall
LINDSAY/SIDNEY GREENBUSH as Carrie Ingalls
KARL SWENSON as Lars Hanson
RICHARD BULL as Nels Oleson
KATHERINE MacGREGOR as Harriet Olson
ALISON ARNGRIM as Nellie Olseon Dalton
JONATHAN GILBERT as Willie Oleson
VICTOR FRENCH as Mr Isiaiah Edwards
MERLIN OLSEN as Jonathan Garvey
HERSHA PARADY as Alice Garvey
PATRICK LABORTEAUX as Andy Garvey
LINWOOD BOOMER as Adam Kendall
DEAN BUTLER as Almanzo Wilder