'Bonanza' creator dies at 93

12:44 PM PST 09/07/2010 by Mike Barnes, AP

David Dortort's series was the most-watched from 1964-67

David Dortort, who created "Bonanza," the top-rated Western that aired for 14 years on NBC with family values as its centerpiece, died Sept. 5 in his apartment in Westwood. He was 93.

"Bonanza" ran from 1959-73, was the most-watched show on television from 1964-67 and maintained a place in the ratings top 10 for a decade. Dortort also created "The High Chaparral," which originally followed "Bonanza" on Sunday nights on NBC and ran for three seasons.

In 1959, Dortort pitched his show to RCA subsidiary NBC. "Bonanza" would be filmed in color in gorgeous Lake Tahoe, Nev. -- to help promote the sale of RCA's color TVs -- and feature a cast of relative unknowns (Michael Landon, Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker and Pernell Roberts) as members of the Cartwright family.

Dortort went away from the typical Western formula of focusing on lone drifters, choosing to focus on a family of three boys and a father living on the Ponderosa Ranch.

"Our scripts delve into character and deal with human relationships, which is where the best stories are. And we try to teach something about human values like faith and hope," the Brooklyn native told Look magazine in 1965.

Bonanza premiered at 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday in September 1959 and failed to attract an audience going up against "Perry Mason" on CBS. But in fall 1961, NBC shifted the show to 9 p.m. Sundays, and it became a huge success.

"Bonanza" was canceled in 1973, a year after the beloved Blocker, who played Eric "Hoss" Cartwright, died unexpectedly after complications from gall bladder surgery. Dortort went on to produce several "Bonanza" spinoffs including "Bonanza: The Next Generation" (1988), a prequel for Pax TV and other Old West-based projects.

Before "Bonanza," Dortort wrote episodes for such series as "Lassie," "The Restless Gun," "Climax!" and "Waterfront" and contributed to the screenplay for the 1952 Nicholas Ray film "The Lusty Men."

A three-time Emmy nominee, he got his start as a producer on "Restless Gun." Dortort served as president of the Producers Guild of America and was president of the Television-Radio branch of the WGA.

Survivors include daughter Wendy, son Fred, brother Elliot and granddaughter Tracy.

A service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in Los Angeles. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Writers Guild Foundation and the Venice Family Clinic.
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