Premiering as a two-hour TV movie on September 19, 1984, the weekly, 60-minute Highway to Heaven was star Michael Landon's third NBC series -- and like Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie before it, the program was a huge success for both star and network. Landon, who also functioned as executive producer and (sometimes) writer/director, was cast as Jonathan Smith, a "probational" angel. In life, Smith had been a lawyer named Arthur Morton, who, at the time of his death at age 38 in 1948, was an aloof and unfulfilled human being. As an angel, Smith was sent to earth to bring love, harmony, and understanding to people undergoing severe problems -- and in so doing, our hero learned a lot about his own potential for goodness and compassion. Of course, Jonathan had not yet earned his wings and would not do so until the Powers Above determined that he had fulfilled his mission. Jonathan was accompanied on his earthly missions by a "living angel," hardbitten ex-cop Mark Gordon, played by Landon's former Little House on the Prairie co-star Victor French. Originally a surly, embittered man, Mark had "seen the light" thanks to Jonathan and was thereafter dedicated to helping his spectral sidekick get his wings. As often as possible, Jonathan and Mark relied upon their wits and resourcefulness to help those in distress; although he possessed supernatural powers, Jonathan preferred not to use them. Although the series was essentially dramatic in nature, several of the stories had a tongue-in-cheek quality to them. There were also innumerable references to Michael Landon's previous TV and movie credits, including guest appearances by such Little House regulars as Matthew Laborteaux and Richard Bull, not to mention a 1987 Halloween episode which spoofed Landon's notorious starring role in the 1957 horror flick I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Managing to combine the best elements of whimsical fantasy and down-to-earth dramatic reality, Highway to Heaven lasted five years and 111 episodes, ending its NBC run on August 4, 1989.
angel, afterlife, guardian-angel, redemption, supernatural-powers