Bonanza took ''ghost town'' literally in its spooky tribute to The Twilight Zone
Little Joe encountered the supernatural in the sensational ''Twilight Town.''
The ghost town is a staple of the Western genre (not to mention "Ghost Town, U.S.A." on The Brady Bunch). But the term, of course, is typically a figure of speech. It's merely an abandoned settlement. Eerie, sure, but not haunted.
Well, Bonanza was not a Western that was afraid of dabbling in other genres. The Cartwrights (well, Hoss) could break into broad comedy, whether it was encountering "leprechauns" or jumping off a cliff with mechanical "flying machine." Yes, indeed, the Ponderosa gang even dabbled with horror.
Bonanza made its debut in 1959 just weeks apart from another American television classic — The Twilight Zone. Perhaps it was their proximate premieres that led the cowboy show to pay tribute to Rod Serling's supernatural storytelling.
In season five, Little Joe takes a hard knock on the noggin from an outlaw and passes out in the desert. He comes to, stumbles through the sand and brush and comes upon a dusty little hamlet. He collapses in the street.
Thus begins "Twilight Town." The title alone blatantly nods to its inspiration, The Twilight Zone. Michael Landon's Little Joe has certainly not collapsed on a highway to heaven here. He comes to thanks to the helpful hand of Louise (Davey Davison) and learns that he has awoken in a place called "Martinville."
Spoiler alert: In the end, Joe takes revenge on the rascally outlaw who started his misfortune with the help of the Martinville townspeople. The showdown ends in a spray of bullets amongst the desert rocks. Joe collapses once again. When he awakens again, it is by the helping hands of his father and brothers. He explains that the townspeople helped.
"What town," Ben asks. Duh-dun-dun! The town is gone! Not only were the people ghosts… did the town even exist?
As if you hadn't figured out this was essentially a Twilight Zone tale, a clever piece of dialogue pays homage.
"Where is everybody?" Joe asks his pa. Sound familiar? "Where Is Everybody," of course, was the title of the first Twilight Zone episode, which aired a few weeks after the Bonanza debut.
Cy Chermak wrote "Twilight Town," his only contribution to Bonanza. Perhaps that is why it feels like such an outlier. Chermak would later produce Kolchak: The Night Stalker, further proving his supernatural bona fides.