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Not many media pundits gave Bonanza much of a chance when the hour-long Western series inaugurated its first season in the fall of 1959. Sure, it was filmed in beautiful color; and yes, the acting was superb, the writing terrific, the production values first-rate. But how could NBC hope to compete against Bonanza's principal Saturday night competition, CBS' indomitable Perry Mason? The first episode, "A Rose for Lotta" offers a special treat for Bonanza enthusiasts: a full-blooded, a cappella performance of the series' theme song (yes, there were lyrics!) by stars Lorne Greene (Ben Cartwright), Pernell Roberts (Adam Cartwright), Dan Blocker (Hoss Cartwright), and Michael Landon (Little Joe Cartwright). "A Rose for Lotta" also guest-stars Yvonne de Carlo as fabled entertainer Lotta Crabtree, one of several real historical characters who would cross paths with the Cartwrights over the next 14 seasons: other season one examples include humorist Sam "Mark Twain" Clemens (Howard Duff), financier Henry Comstock (Jack Carson), and actress Adah Isaacs Menken (Ruth Roman). One of the season's final episodes, "The Avenger," is essentially a showcase for guest star Vic Morrow as a man named Lassiter, whose heightened sense of justice was forged years earlier when his parents were lynched. "The Avenger" was clearly intended as the pilot for a spin-off series, but nothing came of it; Morrow would have to wait two years before landing his own weekly program, Combat. The predictions of industry Cassandras seemed to come true when Bonanza failed to make a dent in Perry Mason's ratings; indeed, Bonanza wasn't even able to crack the Top 30 shows. However, its sponsor, RCA Victor, could not help but notice the upsurge in the sale of color TV sets during Bonanza's freshman season, thus the show was renewed for a second year on the air.~Hal Erickson