Bonanza: The Scripting Process

What goes into creating a script for a television show in Hollywood has always been a challenge for screenwriters. The tedious process has been around for decades: the revisions, the checking and double checking. There are many people that are involved in this process, each of them hold a key role into making sure that each time an actor speaks, they speak words of purpose and meaning. Bonanza in particular, is an iconic television show that resulted in great success and is still one of the most highly ranked Western TV shows of all time. Any great show, at its core, requires a strong script that viewers will choose to tune into each week. Bonanza hit the nail on the head with its script, and as a result, still has reruns on TV Land on a weekly basis. A show that has not had an episode in over forty years obviously has had lasting impact on viewers for a compilation of reasons. To get to a great script that will have a genuine impact on those who would view it takes lots of time and effort.

The process of going from an idea to a script is a lengthy one. While some people may be pitching pre-written scripts, which rights can be sold to a studio, others may simply begin by pitching an idea. Screenwriters will pitch to a studio, “and once you have studio backing, then you go to the network” (Anders). The time between getting backed by a studio and having a ready to film script is a long one. Next, “the pitches that have been accepted get refined into outlines, which hopefully will become a pilot script” (Anders). Sooner or later, “the networks will actually order pilot scripts…Once the first draft is in, you get more notes on that from the studio and the network. And then you go back and try to hand in a revised draft” (Anders). This is the part of the process that is the most time consuming and can result in the downfall of a show. Getting too far from certain ideas of the original screenwriter may end up being a very frustrating situation. These writers “may turn in multiple drafts of their scripts, doing several passes in response to studio and network notes” (Anders). This brief list on how to go from a script to a movie makes it all sound too simple, when, in reality, “a small percentage of the scripts the networks bought are actually ordered as pilots or series” (Anders).

An important topic that the script writers made sure to incorporate into the Bonanza scripts were prevalent social issues such as racism and sexism. Movies and films are an institution and are a product of the society which produces and creates them, and can be dissected to gain further insight into that society (Powdermaker). Popular culture of the 1960s were heavily reflected in the weekly episodes. In a lot of cases, including Bonanza, the script may reflect a certain aspect of society. “There is almost no important American pattern that is not reflected in Hollywood. Frequently it is exaggerated, sometimes to the point of caricature” (Powdermaker). In the case of Bonanza, certain topics may have been too amplified. Pernell Roberts, an actor for the show, “considered the scripts too low brow, demeaning to women, and indecently glorifying wealth in age of poverty… He pushed producers to have Adam Cartwright marry a Native American woman played by a black actress” (Farrier). The current climate and reactions from viewers such as Pernell Roberts may have helped shape Bonanza’s script writers to be more accepting and the multiple edits would have influenced the direction of the show. “We see some some Hollywood patterns as stemming from the past, some as contemporary, and some as portents for the future” (Powdermaker). TV scripts are more often than not indicators of past, present, and future societal dilemmas and provide insight that can be used to shape the future through the television and film industry. Bonanza, an iconic television series that appealed to millions of viewers, was a reflection of social issues transpiring through the fourteen years of production. The Bonanza first and last scripts are the epitome of how society has shifted from the first edit to the final episode.  







Anders, Charlie Jane. “The Whole Crazy Process Of Creating A TV Show, From Pitch To Pilot.”

Gizmodo, 23 Jan. 2015, 2:00,


Farrier, John. “17 Facts You Might Not Know about Bonanza.” Neatorama, July 2011,


Powdermaker, Hortense. “An Anthropologist Looks at the Movies.” The Annals of the American

Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 254, 1947, pp. 80–87. JSTOR, JSTOR,