Tale of the Cartwrights in pre-`Bonanza' days

Today's TV

September 08, 2001

I hate the way network television cannibalizes its past - repackaging and slicing and dicing its touchstones until they turn to dust. But, as a prequel to the NBC series (1959-1973), The Ponderosa premiering tomorrow night at 9 on the Pax network does not make you want to gag the way, say, Dallas: The Early Years did.

The Ponderosa picks up Ben Cartwright and his three sons in 1849 when Ben still had a wife. They were living above a general store in a spit of a dirty little place called Eagle Station in the Nevada Territory, but there was plenty of love and good times to keep their spirits up while Ben and the boys dreamed of owning their own ranch. Before the two-hour pilot ends, Ben will have the ranch, but the boys will lose their mom.

The tone is too sweet and self-righteous for my taste, but, if you liked Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, you'll probably like Ponderosa, too. Beth Sullivan is executive producer of both, and the two productions seemed so alike in sensibility that I wouldn't have blinked to see Dr. Quinn treating Hoss after he was bit in the behind by Little Joe's horse. (The horse bite is how Hoss got his name, by the way.)

Hey, I know: maybe Ben can marry Dr. Quinn and they can open a steakhouse - and two long-running westerns can be exploited with product placement and sponsorship built in. -- David Zurawik

At a glance

Get Shorty (9 p.m.-11 p.m., WBAL, Channel 11) - Hollywood and its foibles are in the spotlight in this entertaining 1995 movie starring John Travolta, Gene Hackman and Rene Russo. NBC.

MotorWeek (5 p.m.-11 p.m., MPT, Channels 22 and 67) - In the season premiere, road tests include the 2002 BMW M3 coupe and convertible. Also highlighted is the Land Rover driven by Angelina Jolie in the film Tomb Raider. PBS.


Book TV (9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., C-SPAN2) - Live coverage of the National Book Festival this weekend in Washington. Highlights include Stephen Ambrose (10 a.m.), Nathaniel Philbrick (10:30 a.m.), Marie Arana (11 a.m.), David McCullough (noon), William Least Heat-Moon (1:30 p.m.) and Walter Dean Myers (3:30 p.m.).

Tom Hanks Double Feature (9 p.m.-1 a.m., Fox Family) - The 'Burbs (1989, with Bruce Dern) will be followed at 11 p.m. by That Thing You Do! (1996, with Tom Everett Scott), which was Hanks' debut as a feature director, the story of a "one-hit wonder" rock band in the '60s.

Compiled from wire reports by Sarah Kickler Kelber

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