By David Flynn
An angel coming to earth and saving people from making serious mistakes in their lives was the premise of this hit 1980s television series.
Writer, producer, director and star, Michael Landon hit gold with ‘Highway to Heaven’, which was his third television series.
Landon had a huge resume of television work since 1959 when he began his 14 year acting stint on the western, ‘Bonanza’, where he played Little Joe Cartwright. He also began writing and directing when he was on that series, so he was very seasoned in television production by the time he began work on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ in 1974. One of his popular co-stars on ‘Little House’ was actor, Victor French, who played Mr. Edwards. Landon and French were close friends on and off the set.
It has been said that Landon had been influenced by the 1947 Cary Grant movie, ‘The Bishop’s Wife’, and he created an angel named Jonathan for a two-part episode of ‘Little House’ in Christmas 1974. The character was then played by Oscar winning actor, Ernest Borgnine. Ten years later, Landon gave Jonathan a new lease of life when he wrote the pilot episode of ‘Highway to Heaven’, and appeared in the starring role.
Set in middle America in the 1980s, Jonathan Smith turns up as a handyman at a retirement home which is heading for closure. His assignment from God, who is called ‘The Boss’ was to help the residents. However Mark Gordon, a retired police officer, does an investigation on Jonathan, leading to him discovering the truth about the angel. Afterwards, Mark becomes friends with Jonathan and the two take to the road helping those in need.
Rumours at the time were that the NBC network wanted a young actor to play Mark Gordon, but Landon objected, and insisted on French being cast. Whatever the truth, it was a good move having both in the series together because they had great chemistry.
‘Highway to Heaven’ premiered in September 1984 and its main competition on the ABC network was ‘The Fall Guy’ starring Lee Majors.