Summary: A light-hearted look behind the scenes at how one of Bonanza’s most cherished episodes just might have come to be. Rated K, WC 1200
The Real History of “The Crucible”
Studio Executive #1: . . . So, here’s what I’m thinking. Little Joe gets captured by a madman in the desert, and the guy tortures him. Big-time family reunion at the end. Whaddya think?
Studio Executive #2: Didn’t we just do that?
Studio Executive #1: Who cares? There’s, like, a million women who want to see Little Joe suffer. It’s weird, but it’s ratings.
Studio Executive #3: Stan’s right, though. Seems like every time we turn around, Little Joe’s suffering again. Landon’s got real bruises, you know. Every time he has to take his shirt off, we go into overtime covering them up. The makeup girls are complaining.
SE #2: (into the phone) Hey, Stella, send the makeup girls something nice. Flowers or tires or something. . . . None of your business why. Just do it! (hangs up) So, are we all set then? I’ll get somebody to write the thing over the weekend.
SE #3: Hey, here’s a thought. What if we had somebody else suffer instead?
SE #1: Like who? Hop Sing? (all laugh) Okay, I’ll see you all on Monday.
SE #2: What the hell is this? Did anybody read this piece of garbage?
SE #1: What’s wrong with it?
SE #2: What’s wrong with it? Are you kidding me? Little Joe is going to sit around for half an hour of this show, taking crap from the loony guy just because the guy’s playing on his honor and saying, “You claim you can’t be driven to kill”? Who’s gonna buy that?
SE #3: Stan’s right. Little Joe’s gonna take one look at this wacko and off him in self-defense, and we’re gonna have 37 minutes of airtime to fill.
SE #1: But it’s pretty good writing.
SE #2: Who cares? I’m gonna get a call from Landon’s agent any minute. I can just feel it.
SE #3: What does Landon have to complain about? He’s getting a big dramatic reunion with Pa at the end. Remember how well that went over in that episode about the white horse—what was it, “The Birthday Present” or something like that?
SE #1: I think it was “The Gift.”
SE #3: Who cares? His fan mail was up for weeks after that.
SE #2: I know, I know, but I’m telling you, this script just doesn’t work.
SE #1: Well, my wife’s brother wrote it, so you better figure out a way to use it. (long silence) Okay, here’s a “what if”. What if instead of Little Joe, we had Hoss get captured?
SE #2: You mean this wacko guy’s going to take the chance that Hoss won’t kick the bejesus out of him?
SE #3: It’s gonna be like a budget remake of “Of Mice and Men”—the first time Loony Guy cuts Hoss’ food ration, Hoss is gonna strangle him.
SE #2: This episode’s getting shorter and shorter.
SE #1: What if we had Lorne do that role?
SE #2: What, the loony guy?
SE #1: No, the one who gets captured. Ben Cartwright’s all about honor and crap like that. He’d go for this.
SE #3: And then what? A big mushy reunion at the end with Pa falling down, sobbing in his sons’ arms? Uh-uh. Never gonna go over with the ladies.
(another long silence)
SE #1: Hey! I got it! What if we swap it around so that Adam’s the one heading out to the desert and Joe’s staying in town to watch the trial?
SE #2: You think anybody’s gonna believe Joe would sit around and listen to a bunch of lawyers for three days? Heck, I don’t do that for three minutes if I get a choice.
SE #3: No, I think Phil’s on to something. Roberts has been complaining that Landon gets all the meaty stuff. Maybe we can get him to stop griping about the scripts if we give him something like this.
SE #2: Yeah, but there’s that big dramatic reunion at the end. I don’t know if he’ll go for that.
SE #1: Well, it’s not like we can get away with a handshake. “Hey, son, glad to see you’re not dead.” “Me too, Pa. What’s for dinner?” Roberts is gonna have to dig deep and get emotional and all that baloney.
SE #2: Tell him to watch how Landon does it. That guy can cry if he breaks a shoelace. I think he pulls a hair out of his nose or something.
SE #3: That’s it! Isn’t Roberts one of those Method actors or something? Tell him it’s an acting challenge. He’ll eat it up.
SE #1: So, is this it? We’ll get somebody to retype the script, flip the names, and it’s a go?
SE #2: I think it’s a go. What do you think, Ralph?
SE #3: It’s genius. Just wait. The ratings’ll go through the roof. Besides, it’s an emotional tour de force. I’m telling you, it’s Emmy material. It requires such an incredibly gifted and well-trained actor that practically nobody on TV today could manage it. Besides, someday the show will go into syndication, and I guarantee you, this episode’s gonna be the all-time favorite. (looks from one to the other) What do you think? Can we sell it to Roberts like that?
SE #1: Only one way to know. Let’s find him.
SE #2: Hey, guys, before we go, one more thing. Landon’s talking about wanting to write a script. What do you think about that?
SE #3: That kid is such a pain in the butt. Every time I turn around, he’s hanging over the camera guys’ shoulders and bugging them with questions. He’s driving everybody crazy.
SE #1: Maybe he wants to direct, too. And maybe he could do a little producing while he’s at it, and then the rest of us could go home.
SE #3: We could use him to replace all the stunt men, too. Heck, maybe he can play all four Cartwrights and give the other guys some time off.
SE #1: Why can’t he just relax and do his lines like everybody else? I swear, if he had his way, he’d have all our jobs.
SE #2: So, what should I tell him?
SE #1: Tell him if we ever run out of scripts, he’s our guy. (all laugh)
SE #3: Like that could ever happen. Come on, let’s go find Roberts and tell him about his shot at an Emmy.
SE #1: We got time for a doughnut or something first? I didn’t have breakfast.
SE #2: Sure, there’s no rush. I mean, really—it’s not like this episode’s gonna be any different from the other ones. (into the intercom) Hey, Stella, can you get some doughnuts in here?
SE #3: You mean future generations aren’t gonna be studying this friggin’ masterpiece for posterity? (all laugh as Stella comes in and sets a tray on the table) Hey, look, they got those chocolate frosted ones with the little colored jimmies on them. Stan, grab me a couple of those, will you?
* * *
And the rest, as they say, is history.
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