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 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.
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" (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, 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' tutorial. However, in seldom situations, The Boss would help the protagonists with "The Stuff", which was often at times of extreme duress or a reward for making excellent progress on the mission.
The episodes did have a range from extremely serious issues to some that were more in line with ordinary problems, such as peer pressure. Nor did every episode point out that one individual or group was "always wrong" or "always right". While there were episodes about bosses being convinced to be leaders or use their money wisely, there was also one episode that dealt with put-upon employees of one firm whose grievances are continually ignored and they wish to resort to any means neccesary, and Mark and Jonathan must convince them such action would produce nothing but disaster.
While dealing sensitively with these situations, the show also uses 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.
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.
In June 1988, NBC decided that season five would be the last, since the show was falling in the ratings. The show was removed from the 1988 fall schedule and used as a mid-season replacement in 1989. Michael Landon made an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in early 1989 and explained this as the reason why episodes that were originally filmed for the fall of 1988 did not air until the late spring and summer of 1989. The series finale aired on August 1, 1989. 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 series currently airs in syndication on cable networks GMC, Cozi TV, INSP - Inspiration, the digital networks Retro TV & Light TV, WHT (World Harvest Television) and Family Entertainment Television.
All five seasons can be viewed for free via the FilmOn channel on Roku.
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 very 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.
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.
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.