Highway to Heaven
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Highway to Heaven is an American television drama series that ran on NBC from 1984 to 1989. The series aired for five seasons, running a total of 111 episodes. It was shot almost entirely in California. The series starred Michael Landon as Jonathan Smith, and Victor French—Landon's co-star from Little House on the Prairie—as Mark Gordon.
|Highway to Heaven|
|Directed by||Michael Landon|
William F. Claxton
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||5|
|No. of episodes||111 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Michael Landon|
|Running time||45–48 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Michael Landon Productions|
|Distributor||CBS Television Distribution|
|Original release||September 19, 1984 –|
August 4, 1989
Jonathan Smith (Landon) is an angel who has been stripped of his wings and is now "on probation", sent to Earth. In the pilot, he meets Mark Gordon (French), a retired policeman now bouncing from job to job. At first distrustful of Jonathan, Mark comes to realize the true nature of him and is then given a job; to assist Jonathan in helping troubled people on Earth. Jonathan and Mark are given assignments by "The Boss" (i.e. God), where they are required to use their humanity to help various troubled souls overcome their problems. These problems include families dealing with sick loved ones; "all-around losers" who are encouraged to find their self-worth; people coping with loss of family such as war widows; parsons who are struggling to lead their flocks; greedy businessmen being encouraged to use their wealth for good; activists who were exploiting problems, such as civil rights, for their own personal gain; local politicians being shown the true meaning of leadership, small time crooks or organized crime members being warned where they are headed, discouraging prejudice in regard to people of different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and disabilities.
Each episode typically begins with Jonathan and Mark arriving in a new city and assuming the identities of business employees or civil service workers. Due to Jonathan's angelic nature, the two are able to adopt positions such as police officers, medical personnel, teachers, social workers, or other skilled employees without any check of their background or verification of their employment history. This allows for a variety of identities and scenarios into which the two find themselves inserted. Both Jonathan and Mark faced the same difficulties as people on Earth trying to rectify these problems, and had little to help them after the Boss' tutorial. Jonathan did have exceptional physical strength, but he only used it for manual labor or for self-defense when attacked by muggers. In certain times Jonathan would present gifts to others, such as decorating a drab nursing home with flowers or giving someone a bicycle. These material gifts likely came from the Boss or Jonathan's superiors, but when asked, he truthfully answered "A friend of mine provided them". However, in rare situations, The Boss would help the protagonists with "The Stuff" (see divine providence), which was often at times of extreme duress or a reward for making excellent progress on the mission.
The series aimed to address contemporary social and emotional issues with sensitivity, and also with humor, particularly between Jonathan and Mark. Their personalities often clash (Jonathan being more sensible and compassionate but naive, and Mark being more pragmatic and cynical), but they always support each other. Jonathan's mission on Earth is to do enough good in order to regain his wings and, presumably, ascend to heaven. As Jonathan and Mark develop a close relationship and Jonathan is in better favor with his superiors, Mark was torn with himself between losing his best friend as opposed to being happy for Jonathan's reinstatement in Heaven, and considered impeding the process.
Guest stars Devon Odessa, Alyson Croft, and Joshua John Miller all won Young Artist Awards for their appearances. Landon's Bonanza co-star Lorne Greene appeared in a 1985 episode. Landon's Little House on the Prairie co-star Matthew Laborteaux appeared in the season one episode "The Right Thing". Moses Gunn, who also co-starred on Little House and starred on Father Murphy, appeared in the season two episode "Popcorn, Peanuts and Cracker Jacks". Barbara Stuart appeared as Carla in the 1986 two-part episode "Love and Marriage". In his last roles, Tyler McVey appeared in separate episodes in 1985 and 1986 as a minister. Don Keefer portrayed Dr. Washburn in the 1986 episode "For the Love of Larry". Anthony Zerbe starred in the episode "The Devil and Jonathan Smith", playing a slave of the Devil whose mission was the exact opposite of Jonathan's. In season one's two-part episode, "The Thoroughbred", Helen Hunt starred as a young and expectant mother with cancer, as did Richard Bull, who also co-starred on "Little House". In season three's "Code Name: Freak", a young Jeff B. Davis, known for his appearances on Whose Line is it Anyway?, guest starred as a twelve-year-old child genius in college. The episode "Wally" guest stars Dick Van Dyke as a hobo with a puppet show who used all his money to help others. The season one episode "One Winged Angel" guest stars Wil Wheaton as Max. In season three a young Paul Walker (The Fast and the Furious) starred in two episodes.
Filming locations included Los Angeles, Simi Valley, Stanislaus National Forest, and Tuolumne County, all in California. In addition, the pilot episode from 1984 was partially filmed along Dawn Road, south of Tucson, Arizona. The footage of Jonathan walking before being picked up by Mark was filmed in Tucson and along Soledad Canyon Road near Acton, California. The Second Season episode "To Bind The Wounds" was partially filmed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona where the World War 2 B-25 Mitchell Bomber was located. Mark's car, central to travel by Mark and Jonathan in the series, was a 1977 Ford LTD II.
The theme for Highway to Heaven was composed by David Rose.
In June 1988 in the midst of the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, NBC decided that season five would be Highway to Heaven's last, since the show was falling in the ratings. The show's 5th-season premiere aired in the fall; after that one episode, the series was removed from NBC's regular broadcast schedule entirely. A two-hour special aired on December 7, but Highway To Heaven was not at that point reinstated as a regular series, though 10 further episodes had been filmed.
Michael Landon made an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on March 10, 1989 and explained the series' cancellation. One further Highway To Heaven episode was broadcast on March 21, but again the series was not scheduled on a regular basis. Finally, the nine remaining season 5 episodes were aired in a Friday timeslot in the summer of 1989 beginning June 2. The series finale (which was a Christmas-themed episode) aired on August 4.
The finale did not resolve any ongoing character situations, leaving the possibility of further episodes. However, even if the series had performed well enough to warrant renewal, Victor French developed lung cancer in March 1989, shortly after he had completed filming the fifth season. He died that June.
The cancellation of Highway also marked the end of Landon's thirty-year relationship with NBC, in which he co-starred on Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie, the latter of which, much like with Highway, he also served as an executive producer and director for the majority of episodes. Landon's last public appearance was on NBC, as a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, less than two months before he died in July 1991.
Although it was initially a big success, and very important to a struggling NBC, by 1988, falling ratings led to the decision to cancel the series after the upcoming fifth season. Suspecting that if he shot a full twenty-four episode season, many would end up on the shelf unbroadcast, Michael Landon made a truncated fifth season of just thirteen episodes. Landon's suspicions were proven correct when NBC refused to give the series a regular timeslot, and instead announced it would be used only as a last-minute replacement show to fill gaps in the schedule. As a result, the series was broadcast sporadically over twelve months, with the final episode (clearly originally intended for Christmas 1988) not shown until August 1989. Landon's anger at NBC's treatment of the show led directly to the ending of his thirty year relationship with the broadcaster.
Broadcast history and Nielsen ratingsEdit
|Season||Time slot (ET)||Rank||Rating|
|1984–85||Wednesday at 8:00-9:00 pm||19||17.7|
|1988–89||Wednesday at 8:00-9:00 pm (Episode 1)
Wednesday at 8:00-10:00 pm (Episode 2, 3)
Tuesday at 8:00-9:00 pm (Episode 4)
Friday at 8:00-9:00 pm (Episode 5-13)
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The series currently airs in syndication on cable networks UP and INSP, digital subchannel networks Cozi TV, Retro TV & Light TV, and the LeSEA Broadcasting Networks of WHT (World Harvest Television) and FETV (Family Entertainment Television).
In Region 1, A&E Home Video (under license from the estate and production company of Michael Landon) released the first three seasons on DVD in 2005–06. The episodes contained on these releases were the edited, syndicated versions and not the original broadcast versions. Due to poor sales, the final two seasons were never released.
On March 18, 2013, it was announced that Mill Creek Entertainment had acquired the rights to the series and planned on releasing it in its entirety. They have subsequently re-released the first four seasons on DVD, with Season 1 containing original uncut episodes and Season 3 containing mostly uncut episodes. Season 4 was released (for the very first time in Region 1) on June 3, 2014. The fifth and final season was released on September 16, 2014.
On November 11, 2014, Mill Creek released Highway to Heaven - The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1.
In Region 2, Paramount Home Entertainment & CBS DVD have released all five seasons on DVD in France under the title Les Routes Du Paradis, with cover art depicting the eye of Horus. Seasons 1 to 4 have been released in Germany under the title Ein Engel auf Erden, while in the Netherlands, the first two seasons have been released on DVD.
Revelation Films acquired the rights to the series in the UK and has released all five seasons on DVD. On November 25, 2013, they released Highway to Heaven- The Complete Collection, a 30-disc set featuring all 111 episodes of the series, as well as bonus features.
In Region 4, Paramount Home Entertainment & CBS DVD released the first three seasons on DVD in Australia for the first time in 2008/2009. The episodes contained on these releases are the edited, syndicated versions and not the original broadcast versions. Seasons 4 and 5 were to be released on DVD on December 24, 2009 but the releases never materialized. These releases have been discontinued and are out of print.
In 2012, Madman Entertainment acquired the rights to the series and have subsequently released all five seasons on DVD. These releases, like the previous releases from Paramount, contain edited episodes not the original broadcast versions.
|DVD name||Ep #||Release dates|
|Region 1||Region 2 (France)||Region 2 (Germany)||Region 2 (UK)||Region 4|
|Season 1||24||May 14, 2013||April 17, 2008||December 11, 2008||June 4, 2012||March 7, 2012|
|Season 2||24||October 1, 2013||October 9, 2008||March 5, 2009||October 29, 2012||March 7, 2012|
|Season 3||25||January 21, 2014||June 18, 2009||December 12, 2009||February 11, 2013||March 7, 2012|
|Season 4||24||June 3, 2014||June 18, 2009||March 4, 2010||July 29, 2013||October 3, 2012|
|Season 5||13||September 16, 2014||December 1, 2009||N/A||October 7, 2013||October 2, 2013|
|Complete Series||111||November 11, 2014||N/A||N/A||November 25, 2013||N/A|
- O'Connor, John J. (September 19, 1984). "TV Review; 'Highway to Heaven' with Landon". New York Times. Retrieved August 10, 2010.
- "TV Talkback". The Los Angeles Times: Television Times. January 1, 1989. p. 2. Retrieved 2017-07-12 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Highway to Heaven DVD news: In-store street date for 1st Season announced". TVShowsOnDVD.com. December 24, 2004. Archived from the original on March 29, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2017.
- "Highway to Heaven DVD news: Heavenly August". TVShowsOnDVD.com. June 6, 2005. Archived from the original on March 29, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2017.
- "Highway to Heaven DVD news: Heaven-ly Box Art And Details From A&E's Official 3rd Season Announcement". TVShowsOnDVD.com. December 30, 2005. Archived from the original on March 29, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2017.
- "Highway to Heaven - The Classic Michael Landon Series Returns to DVD with MORE Than Ever!". Tvshowsondvd.com. March 18, 2013. Archived from the original on March 29, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2017.
- "Highway to Heaven DVD news: Box Art for Highway to Heaven - The Complete 2nd Season". TVShowsOnDVD.com. June 9, 2013. Archived from the original on March 29, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2017.
- "Highway to Heaven DVD news: Announcement for Highway to Heaven - The Complete 3rd Season". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Archived from the original on March 29, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2017.
- "You've Been Saved! 'The Complete 4th Season' to DVD for the FIRST TIME!". Tvshowsondvd.com. March 28, 2014. Archived from the original on March 29, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2017.
- "Even Angels Meet the End of the Road: The Fifth and Final Season". Tvshowsondvd.com. July 15, 2014. Archived from the original on March 29, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2017.
- "'The Complete Series' Announced: All 5 Seasons Together on DVD". Tvshowsondvd.com. July 30, 2014. Archived from the original on March 29, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2017.