New ‘Bonanza’ for NBC

NBC, which galloped ahead of the ratings herd with “Bonanza” from 1959 to 1973, is reportedly close to a deal with syndicator Gaylord Syndicom to acquire a new series based on the classic western.

For NBC this is a preemptive strike, stealing an action hour originally targeted for the syndication market. The distrib reportedly had received offers or firm deals from most of the top 20 markets.

The show is apparently planned for next fall with a series commitment. Gaylord reportedly was wooed to the network deal by a high-end license-fee offer from the web.

“Bonanza: Legends of the Ponderosa,” which was being pitched with a presentation tape at this year’s National Assn. of TV Program Executives confab, will feature the grandsons of patriarch Ben Cartwright with a cast that includes Michael Landon Jr. playing the son of his father’s character, Little Joe.

Other cast members in the Network Ventures/Alliance production, which is set in the early 1900s, include Ben Johnson and Richard Roundtree as family friends working on the ranch, as the sons of Adam, Hoss and Little Joe try to “uphold the Cartwright name.”

In addition, sources say NBC is in talks with Cannell Distribution to acquire the gameshow “Caesars Challenge” for the network’s daytime lineup, which is now under the aegis of stations division president John Rohrbeck, who’s accustomed to shopping for programming at NATPE.

Parties couldn’t be reached to confirm the reports, but, if true, the two series would mark the second and third entries earmarked originally for syndication to be picked up by NBC, which has already committed to the Paramount-produced talkshow “John & Leeza,” hosted by “Entertainment Tonight’s” John Tesh and Leeza Gibbons, for this spring.

The proposed “Bonanza” series marks the second effort to revive the venerable hour, following a syndicated movie, “Bonanza: The Next Generation,” that starred John Ireland and aired in March 1988.

The western genre is on a roll of late, with the theatrical success of Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” and on TV with CBS’ “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.”

“Bonanza,” still repeating in syndication and on The Family Channel, ranks as one of the longest-running series of all time (14 seasons) and was in the top five through most of its network run, including three straight years (from 1964- 67) as TV’s top-rated show.

NBC, of course, also aired the original “Star Trek” and ended up letting the revival of that series get away to syndication, where “Star Trek: The Next Generation” has gone on to become a major hit and prompted the recent spin-off “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

The third-rated Peacock network sought to dazzle affiliates at NATPE with its commitment to new programming, announcing a planned “Cheers” spin-off and a new comedy starring Teri Garr.

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