‘Bonanza’: How ‘Maverick’ Once Poked Fun at the Classic Western Show

Few Westerns did humor better than “Maverick.” And in one episode, the show poked fun at the TV classic “Bonanza.”

The shows overlapped for four years. “Bonanza” ran from 1959 to 1973, and “Maverick” lasted from 1957 to 1962. So when ABC’s “Maverick” mocked CBS’s “Bonanza,” it was making fun of a competitor.

The episode was called “Three Queens Full.” It featured a character named Joe Wheelwright, who was a stand-in for the “Bonanza” character Ben Cartwright, according to MeTV.

Wheelwright had three sons: Moose, Small Paul and Henry. They were stand-ins for Hoss, Little Joe and Adam on “Bonanza.” The episode also starred Jim Backus, who played Thurston Howell III in “Gilligan’s Island.”  

The plot of the show involves Wheelwright of the Subrosa Ranch and his three sons, who are getting mail-order brides from the Barbary Coast. Fighting ensues. Wheelwright’s eldest son punches Bart Maverick and brings a piano lid down on another man’s fingers. The cartoonish violence continues for most of the episode.

‘Bonanza’ Was the First Western to Air in Color

After “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza was the second-longest-running Western in TV broadcast history, per Britannica. And it was the first Western to air entirely in color on audiences’ television sets.

Overall, “Bonanza” was the 14th-longest-running TV series of all time, according to Wide Open Country. It lasted for a total of 431 episodes.

The show would go on to inspire a restaurant chain, Ponderosa, which was originally called Bonanza, and a theme park, the Ponderosa Ranch. The theme park was the brainchild of a couple, Bill and Joyce Anderson, who ran a horse ranch close to the location of the fictional Ponderosa in “Bonanza.” Fans of the show often visited the couple’s property looking for the Cartwrights’ place.

So the Andersons joined forces with NBC and the show’s co-creator, David Dotort, to launch the theme park. It opened in 1968 and closed in 2004.   

Virginia City, Nevada, where the show was set, was also where the Comstock Silver Lode sat. The Comstock Silver Lode was one of the most lucrative precious metal mining operations in U.S. history. So Virginia City was a natural setting for a TV Western like “Bonanza.”