Little House On The Prairie was an American one-hour dramatic television program that aired on the NBC network from 1974 to 1982. During the 1982-83 television season, the series was broadcast with the new title Little House: A New Beginning. (see below).
The show was an adaptation of Laura Ingalls Wilder's best-selling series of Little House on the Prairie books. Michael Landon starred as Charles Ingalls, Karen Grassle played Caroline Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert played Laura Ingalls, Melissa Sue Anderson played Mary Ingalls, and the twins Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush (credited as Lindsay Sidney Greenbush) played Carrie. The show got some controversy with its portrayal of Laura, who, in the show, is often mean-spirited and disobedient.
Although it deviated from the original books in some respects, the television series, which was set in Walnut Grove, Minnesota during the late 19th century, was (and still is in syndication) one of the few long-running successful dramatic family shows. Although predominately a drama, the program did have some comedic moments, thanks to supporting cast members such as Richard Bull (Nels Oleson), Katherine McGregor (Harriet Oleson), Jonathan Gilbert (Willie Oleson), and Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson).
While Nels (proprieter of the town's general store, Olesen's Mercantile) was a true friend of the Olesens, Harriet was not; she often caused trouble by spreading malicious gossip or scheming behind her husband's back to foreclose on the Ingalls' farm. Nellie, the Olesen's oldest child, was a carbon copy of her mother, often very nasty and scheming to humiliate Laura. Willie, 5 years younger than Nellie, was a typical mischievious child and often aided his sister in her schemes. Both Nellie and Willie would change their personalities for the better in later seasons – Nellie after she married Jewish businessman Percival Dalton (played by Steve Tracy ) in 1980; Willie in early 1982 after having a heart-to-heart talk with Laura, who was by then his teacher at Walnut Grove School. However, Harriet always remained true to her nasty, gossipy, scheming, troublemaking self, much to Nels' chagrin.
In 1979, Dean Butler joined the cast as Almonzo Wilder, the man 10 years Laura's senior that she would soon marry. Several episodes during the 1979-1980 season dealt with their budding relationship as it blossomed into true love. Almonzo and Laura were married in the 1980-1981 season premiere.
In later years, the Ingalls family adopted several children. First was 11-year-old Albert Quinn (Matthew Laborteaux ), whom the family met when they moved (briefly) to Winoka in a series of 1978 episodes. In 1981, the family welcomed 12-year-old James (Jason Bateman) and 9-year-old Cassandra Cooper (Missy Francis ), a brother and sister who were orphaned after their parents were killed in an accident. Also in 1981, the Olesens adopted a young orphan named Nancy (Allison Balson ), who was 100 times nastier than Nellie ever was (and Harriet did everything to encourage her).
Also appearing in the series were Victor French (Isaiah Edwards), Merlin Olsen (Jonathan Garvey), Dabbs Greer (Rev. Robert Alden, pastor of Walnut Grove Church), Karl Swenson (Lars Hanson, the town's founder and propriter of the town's mill) and Kevin Hagen (Dr. Hiram Baker, the town's doctor). Michael Landon directed a majority of the episodes, although other people such as Leo Penn and Victor French occasionally took their turn at the director's chair.
A spin-off series of sorts, Little House: A New Beginning, built around star Melissa Gilbert, lasted only one season and aired from September 1982 until March 1983. A new family, the Carters (Stan Ivar as John, Pamela Roylance as Sarah, Lindsay Kennedy as eldest son Jeb and David Friedman as youngest son Jason), moved into the Ingalls' old home. Meanwhile, Almonzo and Laura (who had since given birth to a daughter, Rose), took in their niece, Jenny Shannen Doherty, when Almonzo's brother died. Three made-for-television movie sequels followed.
Little House on the Prairie was largely filmed on Big Sky Ranch at Simi Valley, California, not in Minnesota. Though camera vistas sometimes pick up the rugged terrain, which is too mountainous for Minnesota, the oak savanna is considered to be representative of the real Walnut Grove. Other television programs such as Gunsmoke and The Dukes of Hazzard were produced at the same Big Sky Ranch lot.