Highway to Heaven

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Highway to Heaven
Highway to Heaven title screen.jpg
Genre Fantasy
Family drama
Directed by Michael Landon
Victor French
Dan Gordon
Starring Michael Landon
Victor French
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 5
No. of episodes 111 (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Michael Landon
Producer(s) Kent McCray
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time 45–48 minutes
Production company(s) Michael Landon Productions
Distributor CBS Television Distribution
Release
Original network NBC
Original release September 19, 1984 (1984-09-19) – August 4, 1989 (1989-08-04)

Highway to Heaven is an American television drama series which 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.

Premise[edit]

Jonathan Smith (Landon) is an angel who has been stripped of his wings and is now "on probation", sent to Earth. He meets and pairs up with his human partner and friend, Mark Gordon (French). 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 about their future in Hell, 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 no special abilities except for the Boss's tutorial. 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 Heaven, Mark would sometimes try to impede Jonathan's progress, as he did not want to lose his friend.[1]

Guest stars[edit]

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. 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. Season 3 A young Paul Walker (The Fast and the Furious) starred in two episodes.

Production notes[edit]

Filming locations[edit]

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.

Theme song[edit]

The theme tune for Highway to Heaven was composed by David Rose.

Cancellation[edit]

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; then the series was removed from NBC's regular broadcast schedule entirely.[2] Michael Landon made an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on March 10, 1989 and explained the series's cancellation. Most season 5 episodes were aired in a Friday timeslot in the summer of 1989, and the series finale aired on August 4. Series co-star Victor French died in June 1989 from lung cancer, but this was not the reason for the cancellation as filming on all episodes wrapped prior to French's passing.

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. Ironically, Landon's last public appearance was on NBC, as a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, was less than two months before he passed away in July 1991.

Broadcast history and Nielsen ratings[edit]

Season Time slot (ET) Rank Rating
1984–85 Wednesday at 8:00-9:00 pm 19 17.7
1985–86 13 20.1
1986–87 24 17.2
1987–88 38 14.6
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)

Syndication[edit]

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).

All five seasons are also available for internet streaming on Netflix and Christian-based VOD service Pure Flix, and can be viewed for free via the FilmOn channel on Roku.

DVD releases[edit]

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.[3][4][5] 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.[6] 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.[7][8] Season 4 was released (for the very first time in Region 1) on June 3, 2014.[9] The fifth and final season was released on September 16, 2014.[10]

On November 11, 2014, Mill Creek released Highway to Heaven - The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1.[11]

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.[12]

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

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ O'Connor, John J. (September 19, 1984). "TV Review; 'Highway to Heaven' with Landon". New York Times. Retrieved August 10, 2010. 
  2. ^ "TV Talkback". The Los Angeles Times: Television Times. January 1, 1989. p. 2. Retrieved 2017-07-12 – via Newspapers.com. 
  3. ^ "Highway to Heaven DVD news: In-store street date for 1st Season announced". TVShowsOnDVD.com. 2004-12-24. Retrieved 2017-03-29. 
  4. ^ "Highway to Heaven DVD news: Heavenly August". TVShowsOnDVD.com. 2005-06-06. Retrieved 2017-03-29. 
  5. ^ "Highway to Heaven DVD news: Heaven-ly Box Art And Details From A&E's Official 3rd Season Announcement". TVShowsOnDVD.com. 2005-12-30. Retrieved 2017-03-29. 
  6. ^ "Highway to Heaven - The Classic Michael Landon Series Returns to DVD with MORE Than Ever!". Tvshowsondvd.com. 2013-03-18. Retrieved 2017-03-29. 
  7. ^ "Highway to Heaven DVD news: Box Art for Highway to Heaven - The Complete 2nd Season". TVShowsOnDVD.com. 2013-06-09. Retrieved 2017-03-29. 
  8. ^ "Highway to Heaven DVD news: Announcement for Highway to Heaven - The Complete 3rd Season". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Retrieved 2017-03-29. 
  9. ^ "You've Been Saved! 'The Complete 4th Season' to DVD for the FIRST TIME!". Tvshowsondvd.com. 2014-03-28. Retrieved 2017-03-29. 
  10. ^ "Even Angels Meet the End of the Road: The Fifth and Final Season". Tvshowsondvd.com. 2014-07-15. Retrieved 2017-03-29. 
  11. ^ "'The Complete Series' Announced: All 5 Seasons Together on DVD". Tvshowsondvd.com. 2014-07-30. Retrieved 2017-03-29. 
  12. ^ http://www.revfilms.co.uk/drama-dvd/416-highway-to-heaven-the-complete-collection.html

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External links[edit]