David Dortort was willing to break the rules of Westerns to make Bonanza
"I said this wasn't true at all."
Even if you're not familiar with the name David Dortort, you're probably incredibly familiar with his line of work if you're a Bonanza-lover. Dortort was the creator of the original series, producer of the series Ponderosa, and had a hand in making the string of Bonanza television films that ran between the eighties and nineties.
Dortort knew that he had something special when he created Bonanza; He engineered it that way. In an interview with the Associated Press, Dortort revealed that Bonanza had specifically been made as a pivot away from what audiences had come to expect when they watched a Western. Dortort stated, "I broke the tradition of the Western hero as a rootless, homeless wanderer with no family who went out with the sunset."
Arguably, the series' heart was the love shared between the Cartwright family members, and their willingness to stick by and defend one another, to lengthy extents, if necessary. Dortort argued that the original depiction of the Western hero was not only unnecessary, it wasn't real. He stated, "I said this wasn't true at all. So we started the tradition of a group of people in one place."
Television from previous decades, even television today, also has a habit of dumbing down the parents in a family unit in a cheap effort to get laughs from an audience. Dortort, who was aware that the familial element of the series was the key to its success, knew that he needed to base the show around mutual love and respect, no stupidity required.
It was this change of pace that not only attracted the audience to Bonanza, but also the actors. Lorne Greene specifically stated that he was drawn to the series in the first place because "it was a love story of four men." He went on, "A true story of mankind. It showed the difference between good and bad."
Greene was also appreciative of Dortort's depiction of the Cartwright father. He said, "I liked the idea of the strong father and based my characterization upon my own father."