History of the NBC Little House on the Prairie Series

 

"I was looking at your site tonight and was very impressed with your page on the original series. I think you've got a very accurate picture of what went on. Your explanation of the Ed Friendly/Michael Landon collaboration...or lack thereof...is interesting and largely accurate as I understand it. Good for you." -Dean Butler, Almanzo Wilder

 

Many years before the public would discover a young Melissa Gilbert running down those grassy prairie hills as a pig tailed freckle face Laura Ingalls they would discover the books first written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The public was first introduced to "Little House on the Prairie" and all the characters we have grown to love when Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first book in April of 1932 titled "Little House in the Big Woods." This book was a success with children and their parents and the series was followed with eight more books. Several spin-off books have been written by modern day authors. The books are more pre-quels.

Several years after the first book was published it would be introduced to the public in another way, but this time on television. In 1973, Michael Landon had just finished his role as "Little Joe Cartwright" who he had portrayed on screen for over a decade on the long-running TV Western series "Bonanza." At the end of "Bonanza," Michael had earned enough money to retire young, but he wanted to do more things with his career. Ed Friendly came to Michael and gave him that chance. Ed had been searching for the right TV network to produce and to finance his new series based on the Little House books. Ed immediately thought of Landon because of his love for family and his connections with NBC.

Ed presented to Michael a screenplay for a television pilot based on the Little House on the Prairie books along with all nine books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Michael read the screenplay and had his daughter read the books. They both enjoyed what they read and the public was soon introduced to the Ingalls and their adventures on the American Frontier in the 1870"s on March 30, 1974. The pilot earned the highest ratings for any made for TV movie that year. With all this success NBC produced a weekly hour-long episode based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. "Little House on the Prairie" first aired on September 11, 1974. This new series would start off with the Ingalls family finding new life in a small town of Walnut Grove, Minnesota. This would become their permanent residence. Michael served as producer, star and frequently wrote and directed for the entire run of the series. The television series was based on stories from the books and events in Michael Landon"s life and the people around him. These morals would soon end the relationship between Michael Landon and Ed Friendly.

The beginning of the "Little House on the Prairie" series a severe conflicted started over creative control of the series. Both men had two different visions for the series. Michael"s was more about family and Ed"s was about keeping the storyline true to the books. Ed Friendly would soon leave the picture, but his name continued in the credits as co-executive producer and was later dropped and changed to "An NBC production in association with Ed Friendly."

In 1992, author Tom Ito published a book titled "Conversations With Michael Landon." This book features conversations the author had with Michael. Michael in one conversation with Tom Ito talked about his fights with Ed friendly and stated, "Ed was never there. He never came to the set. He never had anything to do with the show; Ed did his best to sabotage the show, and fortunately he didn"t, because he made about forty million dollars from it." Today, Ed Friendly currently owns all licensing and marketing rights to the series. Ed Friendly previously produced a new Little House on the Prairie series for ABC/Disney based truly on the books.

Michael Landon was one for historical accuracy, even when it came right down to the props. Michael wanted the town of Walnut Grove and all the resident"s who lived there to have clothes that matched identical to the pioneer era and all their homes and cities around town to be accurate like it would have appeared in the 1870s. Michael literally researched history and historical photographs of farmhouses, schoolhouses, and churches and people. The results of his research were the actors wardrobes, the Ingalls home on Plum Creek, Oleson"s Mercantile and many other homes and towns in the series. Michael had made Simi Valley, California the location for the series a window into the American Frontier.

In 1982, things would soon change for the series. The series creator, Michael Landon was getting worn out of playing Charles Ingalls and wanted to pursue other projects. Michael had started his new spin-off series "Father Murphy" starring his good friend Merlin Olsen and Mosses Gunn; both actors appeared on Little House on the Prairie. "Father Murphy" never had any cross overs and Merlin and Mosses played diffrent roles. After Michael and his TV family departed the series except for Laura, viewers wanted to continue to watch the adventures of the citizens of Walnut Grove. Michael changed the title of the series to "Little House: A New Beginning." This was to be the final year for the series. "Little House: A New Beginning" aired from 1982-1983. The final season was focused around the character of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The public was also introduced to a new pioneer family the Carters. The Carters were brought to the series to replace the Ingalls family. The departure of the Ingalls family literally hurt the series and it"s ratings. Michael Landon made guest appearances throughout the series, but these appearances didn"t help ratings. Viewers wanted to see the whole Ingalls family.

When "Little House: A New Beginning" was canceled, the storyline was left wide open with many questions and no closure for the series. Michael persuaded NBC to let him produce three TV films. The first, broadcasted on December 12, 1983, titled "Look Back To Yesterday," was the closure storyline for Albert Ingalls. The following year on February 6, 1984, NBC aired "The Last Farewell," which brought closure to the town of Walnut grove with its destruction of the town. Michael had written the town to be destroyed because it was special to him and he didn"t want another series or a motion picture to be filmed using his town. Although, it was the last storyline to be filmed, it was not the last to be broadcast. NBC had one final storyline that had not previously aired. NBC aired on December 17, 1984 "Bless All The Dear Children," a story based around the kidnapping of Laura's baby girl Rose.

Michael Landon had once said when asked about the values of Little House on the Prairie, "The main values of Little House on the Prairie are little things that nobody seems to care about anymore, the simple needs of people and how difficult it was in those days out West to supply them."

It has been over thirty years since the first episode aired and it has been over seventy years since Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first Little House book. What is the future for Little House on the Prairie" Little House on the Prairie is much popular today as it was when it first aired. Maybe even more. In September of 1998 the cast of Little House got together in Sonora, California for a public reunion to meet and to greet fans. Today, fans can sign on the World Wide Web and discover several Web sites about the books and television series that they have grown to love and enjoy over the years. Fans can even log on to Ebay, an online auction service that features over two hundred Little House on the Prairie memorabilia items and books for sale weekly. So, as you can see, Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family and friends will continue to live in our hearts and for many more generations to come.

Did You Know?

If it wasn't for Ed Friendly's daughter, we might not have had the Little House TV series" Ed Friendly"s daughter had been real sick and stayed home from school. While she was sick she read the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Ed saw what she was reading and picked up one of her books and immediately saw a vision for a future TV series.

It took Ed Friendly eleven months of negotiations with Harper & Row to obtain rights to the Little House books.

Michael Landon was not originally cast as Charles Ingalls. The actor never showed up so he decided to play the role that would soon be one of the highlights of his career. There is no record of who this actor could have been.

Little House on the Prairie was on the Nielsen Top ten and remained in the top ten throughout the run of the series.

In 1981 Michael Landon handed out more than $125,000 in Christmas gifts to his 130 cast and crew members.


 

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