The Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) celebrates its golden jubilee (1965-2015) on this 8th February. To celebrate such a great happening, so far overlooked by the station itself, this article salutes a television serial or soap that stole the show back some thirty-seven years ago and which, to some extent, marks this historical milestone of local television.
Saturday evenings on television in the seventies were marked by a succession of two movies starting from eight to ten in the evening that usually scored high ratings among the viewers.  ‘Columbo’ with cigar-puffing Peter Falk was a not-to-be-missed serial in the same way as ‘Petrocelli’, ‘Van der Valk’, among others.  In June 1978, when the World Cup drew large audiences together in front of their television sets with glowing stars like Mario Kempes, Johann Cruyjff or Roberto Rivelino from great national teams like Argentina, Holland and Brazil, MBC TV launched quite softly a serial named ‘The Little House on the Prairie’ known in French as ‘La petite maison dans la prairie’ in a bid to cool down the ardour of fantastic duels among the great teams.
This serial was launched in the United States in 1975 and became an instant hit whereby it treated a novel written by Laura Ingalls Wilder by the end of the nineteenth century.  Compared to trendy and sophisticated TV serials aired, this family serial came with the freshness of great living in the countryside, particularly Walnut Grove, where atop the hillside stood a little wooden house with stairs, in serene isolation.  In that house lived a family of five namely Charles Ingalls, the ever hard-working father, Caroline, his faithful and sweet wife, and their three children – Mary, Laura and baby Carrie.
The first thirteen episodes
When ‘The Little House on the Prairie’ was first broadcast on television, it received little attention although ‘Week-End Escale’ – supplement to Week-End newspaper – gave full coverage of the movie with a picture of Michael Landon (Charles Ingalls) carrying a wooden toolbox.  The first episode was followed with little interest but the pace set by the director with enthralling title music drove some attention from viewers.  When the episode ended, Charles Ingalls fell from a tree, had some bones broken and was treated in-house by his wife.
This story immediately drew compassion from the Mauritian viewers finding a theme not dealing with violence but simply peace, good living and the day-to-day struggle of migrants coming to discover the New World.
Saturday night’s top serial
The success of the first episode created waves all too instantly.  The characters of the movie were so natural and human that the audience looked to have booked their seats in the coming weeks.  With a scenario blended with passion, love, humanism and generosity, the Ingalls family became popular among local viewers and the ‘Little House’ set its pace forward to conquer the audiences.
Week after week, ‘The Little House’ met with resounding success.  The scenario involved characters like the angry Madame Oleson but her gentle and meek husband who were the neighbours.  There were also close friends like the Edward family and the very helpful Mr Edwards played by Victor French, close friend to Michael Landon. Episodes focused on the schooling of the children, juvenile affection among the elder girls Marie and Laura with classmates.  There were episodes covering austerity exemplified through droughts and all the hardships endured by the Ingalls family.
Madame Ingalls, attraction and charm
Although Michael Landon intended to make ‘The Little House on the Prairie’, a family drama packed with affection and noble thoughts, he found in Karen Grassle, the most fitting personality capable of playing the role of Madame Caroline Ingalls, the mother of three daughters.  With the simplicity in which she portrayed Madame Ingalls and beauty that surpassed imagination at that time with an embroided cap and tight outfits, Karen Grassle looked more like a bewitching belle than a housewife often removing her cap to reveal her long and bountiful hair when she uttered warmly ‘Charles..’ at night.  
Karen Grassle as Caroline Ingalls had episodes devoted to her like ‘The Voyage of Caroline’ whereby her role was more prominent than others.  To add spice to her role, she found herself usually dominated by Madame Oleson or ridiculed by other ladies at Walnut Grove.  But Karen Grassle, as a heart-winning character, stepped into fantastic roles like becoming a part-time teacher in one episode. The beauty evoked by Madame Ingalls appealed not only to her husband but the pastor in the church who eulogised her for her good deeds. 
Loved by all Mauritians
What was interesting of this serial was the response that the Mauritian public could offer to the movie.  Most people who met one another could not miss stating, ‘Petite maison, sa ene zoli film sa’ and this came from all creeds and cultures.  From the first to the last episode during 1978, the series rose up in popularity to become the favourite TV serial challenging the trendy ‘New Avengers’(Chapeau melon et bottes de cuir) which featured debonair Patrick Mc Nee, ravishing Joanna Lumley and her funny mate, Gareth Hunt. Needless to say that such a time in television history that American serials were the most demanded ones.  ‘The Rockford Files’ with James Garner in the lead role immediately followed the Saturday reigning serial but was lesser viewed since it catered to a more sophisticated audience.
A little of resistance
Despite the fact that ‘The little House’ commanded greater and greater admiration due to its simple but heart-warming narrative and naturally lived characters, there was some resistance from those who liked action movies.  A few viewers considered the movie to be a ‘child-oriented’ one while detractors thought that it looked more like lessons from the Bible.  However, Ronald Reagan, one of the best US presidents in power in the 1980s, rated the ‘Little House’ as his best serial and this gave enormous credibility to it.
The second broadcast
The success of the first thirteen episodes of ‘The Little House on the Prairie’ gave the MBC the desire to broadcast the second season once again but on Sunday afternoons.  This was in 1979, some time back from the unbeaten success track that the movie enjoyed.  New characters entered the story and the film looked to lose a little of its glamour as the narrative lengthened.  However, the fans of the serial remained seated to watch and enjoy the serial.
As the years passed, more episodes were broadcast but they could never attain the one-time popularity that ‘The little House’ enjoyed.  Michael Landon moved to another production with partner Victor French, ‘Highway to Heaven’.  He died at the age of 55 leaving all the fans of the serial that he created, saddened with such a loss.  He was an ever smiling, compassionate and gentle man with curly auburn hair and a look coming close to K 2000’s – another great serial –David Hasselhof. The beautiful and prude Madame Ingalls (Karen Grassle) was seen again in a Sunday movie called ‘The President’s Mistress’.  Melissa Gilbert, the vivacious Laura Ingalls grew up as a producer and little was heard of Melissa Sue Anderson who was the sober Marie Ingalls in the movie.
In this fiftieth year of television existence in the Mauritian society, it is good to recall such a famous serial that drew all Mauritians together with an unparalleled audience score.  Though it was broadcast in colour for a few fortunate viewers, most of us lived the story that unfurled over the thirteen weeks in black and white.
At the end of the show, one of the TV announcers, Maud Patten or Marie-Josée Baudot, would just remind us of ‘Merci d’avoir suivi ce merveilleux film.’
Years later, far away from the clamour of the family saga created by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the legend of the little house that basked in isolation on the prairie still lives on in some collective thoughts.  A remarkable television event that could be considered as ‘the movie in this great golden jubilee of Mauritian television.’