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Alison Angrim Talks About the Enduring Popularity of ‘Little House on the Prairie’

Photo Credit: Araya Doheny / Getty Images / Cropped
Photo Credit: Araya Doheny / Getty Images / Cropped

Little House on the Prairie wasn’t just one of the most popular shows of the 1970s and ’80s, but of all time. It ran for an impressive nine seasons and more than 200 episodes. It’s safe to say that it’s a show that many people like to comfort watch even now, nearly 50 years after it first came out. According to one of the series’ stars, Alison Arngrim, this long-lasting fame isn’t understandable to everyone.

A good old family drama

Based on the book series of the same name, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the first episode of Little House was released on September 11, 1974. Praise for the show began with this pilot, as it ranked third for ratings at the time. This was despite the fact that the first series was one of the lower-ranked, second only to season two. Ratings dropped off again by the eighth season.

Photograph of the Ingalls family from 'Little House on the Prairie.'
Lindsay Greenbush, Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, Melissa Gilbert, and Melissa Sue Anderson, pose for a group portrait for Little House on the Prairie, c. 1974. (Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection/ Getty Images)

Seasons three through seven were incredible, however, and made Little House one of NBC’s highest-rated series. It won several Emmy Awards during its run, as well as a handful of awards in Spain. There have been several reboots of the show, including a Disney mini-series and a musical, but none of them have been anywhere near as popular as the original.

Truly timeless

Not only was Little House well-liked when it was still being produced, but it has remained this way throughout the years. This is something that Alison Arngrim, who played everyone’s favorite antagonist, Nellie Olsen, commented on in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment in the lead-up to the show’s 50th anniversary. She said that the show has “exploded again and again” as it gets passed through generations.

Young Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim in dresses smiling at the camera while they lie on their stomaches.
Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls, and Alison Arngrim as Nelly Olson, in a publicity still for Little House on the Prairie. (Photo Credit: diannecan / NBC/ MovieStillsDB)

She guessed that the emotional struggles depicted on the series are relatable to people of all ages and all generations. Although the show was set in the 1800s, the difficulties faced by the Ingalls family are truly timeless. This is something that fans have commented on repeatedly when they meet the actress.

‘Baffling’ popularity

As Arngrim said, “It’s a family and they’re poor, and they have a lot of children, and they live in two rooms, and they’re constantly wondering if they’re gonna make it through the year. And there’s a family in town who are kinda rich and snotty and they’re horrible, and everyone has a Mrs. Oleson at their job and everyone has a Nellie at their school. Most of the world’s not living like Dynasty and Dallas, they’re living like Little House on the Prairie.”

Matthew Labyorteaux, Michael Landon, Jr., Alison Arngrim, Dean Butler, Lindsay Greenbush, Karen Grassle, and Melissa Sue Anderson pose for a photo together.
(Left to right standing) Matthew Labyorteaux, Michael Landon, Jr., Alison Arngrim, Dean Butler, Lindsay Greenbush, (left to right seated) Karen Grassle, and Melissa Sue Anderson of Little House On The Prairie visit Extra at their New York studio, April 30, 2014. (Photo Credit: D. Dipasupil/ Getty Images for Extra)

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She continued, “And this seemed to strike a nerve emotionally with people all over the world, and that seems to hold up.” Although Arngrim can rationalize the continued popularity of the show, apparently it is still confusing to her and the rest of the cast. She joked to Yahoo, “The why everyone still loves Little House, this is a question that’s kind of baffled all of us. We’re like, ‘Yeah, it was good, but it was 50 years ago!'”

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.