Airdate: April 20, 1988

Director: William F. Claxton

Producer/Story: David Dortort

Teleplay: Paul Savage

Score: Bob Cobert

Run Time: 93 minutes


John Ireland (Aaron Cartwright)

Robert Fuller (Charlie Poke)

Barbara Anderson (Annabelle “Annie” Cartwright)

Michael Landon Jr. (Benjamin “Benj” Cartwright)

Brian A. Smith (Josh Cartwright)

John Amos (Mr. Mack)

Peter Mark Richman (Mr. Dunson)

Bonanza: The Next Generation aired fifteen years after the end of the fourteen-season run of the immensely popular TV western Bonanza and was helmed by William F. Claxton, the prolific director of 57 Bonanza episodes.

Intending its revival for first-run syndication, legendary Bonanza producer/writer David Dortort wrote the original script with Lorne Greene signed to reprise his role as the authoritative but beloved Ben Cartwright. Tragically, Greene’s unexpected death one month before production began in 1987 meant the concept had to be retooled and the final teleplay was written by Paul Savage, veteran of Laramie and Gunsmoke.

Academy Award® nominee John Ireland (All the King’s Men) was brought in to play Captain Aaron Cartwright, the sea-faring brother of the late family patriarch. Ireland had appeared in the 1967 Bonanza episode “Judgement at Red Creek” and was an inspired choice to fill the considerable void left by Greene.  

Robert Fuller came on board following a script overhaul late in the project but was hired as ranch foreman Charlie Poke immediately following a meeting with Dortort and his producing partners, whom Robert knew or had worked with before.

The lone woman on the “new” Ponderosa Ranch was the luminous Barbara Anderson as Annabelle, Little Joe’s wife and Benj’s mother.

The next generation of Cartwright boys featured Michael Landon Jr. as Benjamin or “Benj” Cartwright, son of Little Joe Cartwright (Michael Landon) and Brian A. Smith as Joshua, the illegitimate son of Hoss Cartwright (Dan Blocker).

John Amos of Roots fame, was cast as the Cartwright’s loyal cook and right-hand man, Mr. Mack. Peter Mark Richman, who played the heavy, Mr. Dunson, had appeared in the 1968 Bonanza episode “A World Full of Cannibals”.

Lorne Greene’s daughter Gillian Greene, playing a possible love interest for Benj Cartwright, had a small role in the movie as well.

At that time, Michael Landon’s own series Highway to Heaven was in full swing and he would not reprise his role as Little Joe Cartwright, but since the show was styled as a pilot, it was hoped he might return. The fate of Little Joe, who had been awarded a medal for heroism at the Battle of San Juan Hill, is left open in the movie.

Bonanza: The Next Generation was shot on location at the Ponderosa Ranch at Incline Village, Lake Tahoe, Nevada; Lake Valley on the California side of Lake Tahoe, and Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park.

The rousing, epic score for the pilot was composed by Bob Cobert, acclaimed for the television serial Dark Shadows and themes for the sweeping miniseries The Winds of War (1983) and War and Remembrance (1988).


The saga of Bonanza: The Next Generation opens in Nevada, 1905. A shiny corporate automobile rumbles across the pristine Ponderosa. Now in charge of his family’s sprawling ranch, Aaron Cartwright agrees, despite initial misgivings, to allow the Amsted Mining Company excavation rights on the Ponderosa’s north section - land that his late brother had fatefully declared was “best left to God and eternity”. Aaron is convinced by mining representative Dunson that without jobs and prospects, declining Virginia City will become a ghost town.

Charlie Poke is the Ponderosa’s gritty foreman. Entrusted by his friend Ben Cartwright to safeguard both the Cartwright family and the ranch, he clashes with Aaron over values, Ben Cartwright’s wishes, and the chaos he knows will follow rumours of a gold strike. Aaron respects Charlie but sees him as a throwback to a bygone era. In a moment of prescience born of experience, Charlie reminds Aaron that while his guns are fast becoming obsolete, they aren’t yet. He is backed in his mistrust of Dunson by the Cartwright’s loyal long-time cook, Mr. Mack.


If the towering Ben Cartwright is the deeply-felt spirit of this story, Charlie is its conscience. He sees promise and glimmers of his old friend Ben in the fiery young Cartwrights, Benj and Josh, who must come to terms with their family legacy, the past and the future of Nevada all at once. When the boys realize the Amsted company is violating the idyllic Ponderosa’s north section with illegal hydraulic mining, they enlist Charlie’s help to shut it down, old-school.

At a civil town meeting with Virginia City’s Mayor, Aaron faces the wrath of the townspeople by standing up to the duplicitous Dunson and refusing to allow any more Amsted wagons on Ponderosa property. Dunson, whose personal stake in a potential gold strike makes him a liability to the Amsted company, still refuses to back down. And he makes one final, fatal mistake. He threatens Charlie and the Cartwrights, on Ponderosa land.

In the rapid-fire conclusion of Bonanza: The Next Generation, New West meets Old West head on when an impassioned Charlie thunders into the mine site on horseback to clean up the bad business of a deal gone wrong.

Review By: Belinda New

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