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Screen Adaptations

A website on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books would be incomplete without at least some mention of the many television adaptations of her work, none of which intended to be faithful to the source material but all of which proved enormously popular.

The popular television series Little House on the Prairie, with Michael Landon as Pa, Karen Grassle as Ma, and Melissa Gilbert as Laura, aired on NBC television for nine years between 1974 and 1983 (the final season was retitled Little House: A New Beginning). It was preceded by a television movie-of-the-week of the same name (30 March 1974) that was written by Blanche Hanalis and that Michael Landon produced in collaboration with Ed Friendly. Three movies-of-the-week aired after the series had ended: Little House: Look Back to Yesterday (12 December 1983), Little House: The Last Farewell (6 February 1984), and Little House: Bless All the Dear Children (17 December 1984). With the exception of The Little House Years, a three-hour retrospective special that aired on 18 November 1979, the entire series has been rereleased on DVD. See my cast list and my episode guide.

A few years after the premiere of Little House on the Prairie on NBC, Ed Friendly joined forces again with Blanche Hanalis to adapt Rose Wilder Lane’s novel Let the Hurricane Roar for ABC. Starring Roger Kern as David Beaton and Linda Purl as Molly Beaton, Young Pioneers aired as a two-hour movie on 1 March 1976, followed by a second two-hour movie, Young Pioneers’ Christmas, which aired on 17 December 1976; both movies have been released on DVD. They were followed by a television series called Young Pioneers in spring 1978, but it lasted only three episodes.

Fifteen years after the end of Little House on the Prairie on NBC, CBS aired two movies-of-the-week that purported to tell the “true” story of Laura Ingalls Wilder. With Meredith Monroe as Laura and Richard Thomas (from The Waltons) as Pa, Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1999) adapts scenes from The Long WinterLittle Town on the PrairieThese Happy Golden Years, and The First Four Years, and it was followed by Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder Continues (2001), loosely based on On the Way Home. These movies have been released together on DVD.

In 2005, the six-hour miniseries Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie aired as part of ABC-TV’sWonderful World of Disney. Filmed in Alberta, the series starred Cameron Bancroft (Charles Ingalls), Erin Cottrell (Caroline Ingalls), Kyle Chavarria (Laura Ingalls), and Danielle Ryan Chuchran (Mary Ingalls). A tie-in edition of Wilder’s novel coincided with the broadcast of this miniseries. Ed Friendly was the executive producer. The miniseries was written by Katie Ford and directed by David L. Cunningham. It was released on two-disc Disney DVD in March 2006.