Highway to Heaven
Highway to Heaven is an American fantasy drama television series that ran on NBC from September 19, 1984, to August 4, 1989. The series starred Michael Landon as Jonathan Smith, an angel sent to Earth in order to help people in need. Victor French, Landon's co-star from Little House on the Prairie, co-starred as Mark Gordon, a retired policeman who traveled with and helped Smith with his tasks or “assignments,” to which they are referred. The series was created and executive produced by Landon, who also directed most of the show's episodes. (French directed many of the remaining episodes.) It was also Landon's third and final TV series and his only one set in the present day, unlike Little House on the Prairie, and Landon's first TV series, Bonanza, both of which were Westerns. It was the final screen appearance for French, who died two months before the final episode aired; Landon went on to appear in two films, one of which was a pilot for a new series, prior to his own death in 1991.
|Highway to Heaven|
|Created by||Michael Landon|
|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||Michael Landon|
|Running time||45–48 minutes|
|Production company||Michael Landon Productions|
|Original release||September 19, 1984 –|
August 4, 1989
Highway to Heaven aired for five seasons, running a total of 111 episodes. It consistently earned respectable ratings; it was in the Nielsen Top 20 in its first season, and ranked in the Top 40 for its first four seasons.
Plot and themesEdit
Jonathan Smith, formerly a man who lived on Earth named Arthur Thompson, is now a "probationary" angel sent to Earth to help people in need. In the course of an "assignment," he meets Mark Gordon, an embittered retired policeman now bouncing from job to job. At first distrustful of Jonathan, Mark helps him complete his assignment and soon comes to realize his true nature, and is then given a job by "The Boss" (a.k.a. God): to assist Jonathan in helping troubled people on Earth. Jonathan and Mark are given assignments where they help various troubled souls overcome their problems.
Each episode typically begins with Jonathan and Mark arriving in a new city and taking jobs as business employees or civil service workers as part of their latest assignment. Due to Jonathan's angelic nature, the two can work as police officers, medical personnel, teachers, social workers or other skilled employees (background checks or employment history verification being "angelically" provided or somehow never looked into), allowing for a variety of identities and scenarios. Both Jonathan and Mark face the same difficulties as people on Earth trying to rectify these problems, and have little to aid them beyond a bare outline of their assignment. Jonathan has exceptional physical strength, but he can only use it for manual labor or self-defense. At certain times Jonathan presents gifts to others, such as decorating a drab nursing home with flowers or giving someone a bicycle. These material gifts likely come from "the Boss" or Jonathan's superiors, but when asked, he answers only "A friend of mine provided them." However, in rare situations, "The Boss" provides the protagonists with divine intervention or as Mark refers to as "The Stuff."
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 sometimes naive, and Mark being more pragmatic and cynical), but they always support each other. Jonathan's mission on Earth is to do enough good to gain 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 is torn between losing his best friend as opposed to being happy for Jonathan's being promoted to Heaven, and considers impeding the process.
Filming locations included Los Angeles, Simi Valley, Stanislaus National Forest, and Tuolumne County, all in California. Besides, 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, where the World War II 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.
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 regularly. Finally, the nine remaining season 5 episodes were aired in a Friday time slot 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. Even if the series had performed well enough to warrant renewal, Victor French would have been unable to continue with it, since he developed lung cancer in March 1989, shortly after completing filming the fifth season, and died that June.
The cancelation of Highway also marked the end of Landon's 30-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.
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)
The series has aired 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). It has also aired on BYUtv.
All five seasons were released for streaming on Netflix in June 2017, and Hallmark Movies Now, Dove Channel, Christian-based VOD service Pure Flix, and the FilmOn channel on Roku. In 2020 the series began being added to the Living Scriptures streaming service.
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 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.
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.
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|
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