Little House on the Prairie is an American one-hour dramatic television program that aired on the NBC network from September 11, 1974, to March 21, 1983, bumping the long-running Adam-12 series to Tuesday nights. During the 1982-83 television season, with the departure of Michael Landon, the series was broadcast with the new title Little House: A New Beginning. A three-hour compilation special called The Little House Years was aired in 1979. (The series itself was preceded by a two-hour pilot movie that first aired on March 30, 1974).
The show was a loose adaptation of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s best-selling series of Little House on the Prairie books. Readers of the books will notice huge discrepancies between the book series and the shows.
The series was produced in-house by NBC. As of 2007, current corporate sibling Universal Media Studios owns the underlying rights; however, it is distributed in syndication in the United States by CBS Television Distribution, the syndication arm of CBS Paramount Television (holders of the library of Worldvision Enterprises, the original syndicated distributors).
Although it differed from the original books, and many new characters and situations were added, this television series was one of the few long-running successful dramatic family shows (and it is still in syndication). Although predominantly a drama, the program did have some comedic moments, thanks to supporting cast members such as Mr. Edwards (played by Victor French) and the Oleson family: Nels Oleson (Richard Bull), Harriet Oleson (Katherine MacGregor), Willie Oleson (Jonathan Gilbert), and Nellie Oleson (Alison Arngrim).
The show's central characters are Charles Ingalls (Michael Landon), farmer and patriarch, with his wife, Caroline (Karen Grassle), and four daughters, Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson), Laura (Melissa Gilbert), Carrie (Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush and Grace (Wendi and Brenda Turnbaugh). The Ingalls family also adopts 10-year-old Albert Quinn (Matthew Laborteaux), whom the family meets when they move (briefly) to Winoka, Dakota Territory in a series of 1978 episodes. Later the Ingalls family adopts more children, James (Jason Bateman) and Cassandra Cooper (Missy Francis), a brother and sister who are orphaned after their parents are killed in a wagon accident.
Other essential characters included the friendly Nels Oleson, proprietor of the town's general store, Oleson's Mercantile; his malicious, gossipping wife, Harriet; and their two spoiled children, Nellie and Willie; and later, their adopted child, Nancy (Allison Balson). Also appearing in the series are Merlin Olsen (as Jonathan Garvey), Dabbs Greer (as Reverend Robert Alden), Karl Swenson (as Lars Hanson, the town's founder and proprietor of the town's mill), and Kevin Hagen (as Dr. Hiram Baker, the town's doctor). Malcolm in the Middle creator Linwood Boomer appears as Mary Ingalls's teacher-turned-husband, Adam Kendall, whom she meets at the school for the blind in the 1978-1979 season. In 1979, Dean Butler joined the cast as Almanzo Wilder, and he and Laura are married in the 1980-1981 season premiere.
Michael Landon directed the largest number of episodes (87); producer William F. Claxton handled the majority of the remaining shows (68). Co-star Victor French helmed 19 episodes.
The series theme song was titled The Little House and was written and conducted by David Rose.
As with most TV series set in a distant time or place, the series includes occasional historical inaccuracies and errors. For example, in the early episode "Country Girls", near the end of the episode in the school yard, a airplane can be heard flying overhead which of course did not exist at that time! Little House on the Prairie was largely filmed on Big Sky Ranch at Simi Valley, California. Camera vistas sometimes pick up the rugged terrain, far too mountainous for Minnesota, and the Californian chaparral vegetation. In one particular episode Laura runs away and climbs up a mountain. However, there are no mountains on the prairie. Nevertheless, in most scenes the oak savanna is considered to be representative of the real Walnut Grove. Dr. Baker's telephone seems far ahead of its time, since the telephone was newly invented and existed only in large cities in the 1880s. Also during the series run, several married women are seen regularly teaching. During the 1800s, married women were not allowed to teach. Several episodes also mentioned peanut butter sandwiches, which were not introduced until the early 1900s. Another episode shows an elderly presumably Colonel Harland Sanders attempting to sell his franchise to Mrs. Oleson. Sanders was born in 1890 and would have been an infant or child at the time the series takes place. There was also an episode where Mr. Oleson claimed to have played college football, but he was far too old to have played in even the earliest college football games (which took place in 1869).
The most successful western-dramatic series ended in 1983, due to low ratings (after Landon's decision of leaving the cast), but this show set the tone for one other series that is similar to Little House: Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman. In addition, the show is immensely-popular in reruns in syndication, Hallmark Channel and on TV Land, and because of its historical context, is deemed acceptable for use by the FCC to meet federal E/I programming guidelines. Two stations which use the program to meet E/I include Orange County, California's KDOC, and Green Bay, Wisconsin's WLUK.
A majority of the episodes in the North American DVD versions have scenes cut from the episodes--these are derived from the syndicated television versions by Worldvision Enterprises, the series former distributor; in fact, their various logos still appear at the end of most episodes (but before the current NBC Universal Television Distribution logo). Other episodes, especially in the DVD versions of some episodes in Seasons 1 and 8 of the original series, and season 9 of "...A New Beginning", are time-compressed; these are NTSC-converted video prints from UK PAL masters. Only a handful of episodes in the DVD sets are in their original, uncut versions (for example, many Season 1 episodes on DVD contain scenes not in current syndication prints). Unfortunately, many episodes on the DVD versions contain tracking lines and audio problems.
The DVD sets sold in the US and Canada were released under license from NBC Universal by Imavision Distribution, a company based in Quebec. Imavision has also released a French-language version of the DVD set, sold separately. Both versions are in NTSC color, and coded for all regions. Later copies were distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment, following their acquisition of Imavision.
Before retail DVDs were available, the Little House episodes were available through a Columbia House club subscription. These VHS tapes contained two episodes per tape and were only available at a club price. The episodes on these VHS tapes, unlike the current DVDs, were not edited and remain the only commercially available uncut episodes.