The Las Vegas Show debuted 50 years ago today on May 1st, 1967. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry. Most people haven’t. It aired on the short-lived United Network. In fact, it’s the only program that aired on the United Network. Haven’t heard of the United Network, either? Again, don’t feel bad. It’s an obscure part of television history.
A Forgotten Network
First announced in July 1966, the United Network started out as the Overmyer Network. The name came from businessman and founder Daniel H. Overmyer, who served as network chairman. Overmyer hired Oliver E. Treyz, former president of ABC, to act as president of his new network. In March 1967, Overmyer sold the network, the company that owned it, to a group of investors. The United Network was born. Overmyer stayed involved as a major stockholder.
The United Network soon began making programming announcements, with plans for sporting events and news. Comedian Bill Dana came on board as host of a two-hour late-night variety show to premiere on May 1st. Supposedly, the United Network lined up roughly 125 stations in the United States, plus 32 in Latin America, for the debut.
The Las Vegas Show
Taped at the Hotel Hacienda in Las Vegas, the United Network hoped The Las Vegas Show could draw viewers away from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on NBC and recently-introduced The Joey Bishop Show on ABC. But it wouldn’t air at the same time across the country. Most stations reportedly scheduled it Monday through Friday starting at 10:30PM, 11PM, 11:30PM, or midnight.
There were some bizarre cases, however. WPIX in New York City broadcast The Las Vegas Show from 11:30PM-1:30AM on Monday and Wednesday and from 9-11PM on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. It aired from 3:30-5:30PM weekdays on KOB-TV in Albuquerque. WTIC-TV in Connecticut aired it from 1-3AM on weeknights.
Guests scheduled for the first episode included seven astronauts: Alan Shepard, Gordon Cooper, James Lovell, Michael Collins, Charles Conrad, John Young, and Richard Gordon). There were plenty of entertainers: Milton Berle, Allen and Rossi, Billy Daniels, Abbe Lane, Dave Astor, Chad and Jeremy, Big Tiny Little, Sarah Vaughahn, and Rich Little and the Trombones. Finally, Nevada Governor Paul Laxalt and Senator Howard W. Cannon.
Other guests appearing on The Las Vegas Show (based on TV listings) included Arthur Godfrey, Sheila MacRae, Craig Stevens, Della Reese, Jerry Lester, Maureen O’Hara, Barbara McNair, Frank Gorshin, Giselle MacKenzie, Juliet Prowse, Tammy Grimes, Hugh Hefner, Liberace, John Wayne, Marty Ingels, Marni Nixon, Eileen Brennen, and Redd Foxx.
TV Critics Split
Here’s how Jack Gould reviewed the premiere for The New York Times:
The debut was thin and strained as assorted celebrities came and left with great rapidity and Mr. Dana’s lack of a commanding personality did not very effectively bridge the lapses inherent in the format. To come up with 10 hours of variety a week is a staggering requirement that will require far more imagination, preparation and probably greater financial expenditure than was evident in the premiere. There were names galore but the whole had the stamp of somewhat old-fashioned vaudeville. Giving the show a stronger character is clearly going to take time.
The Chicago Tribune‘s Robert Goldsborough was more positive:
As a host, Dana came off well in the opener. His style is one of deliberate hesitation, almost uncertainty. This is similiar to Joey Bishop’s delivery, but Dana appeared less nervous than Bishop was when his own show opened a little more than two weeks ago.
In addition to Dana himself, a major strength of the new program probably will prove to be the endless parade of top talent moving steadily thru the gambling mecca.
Goldsborough did criticize the United Network for running two many commercial interruptions. He counted eight during the first hour as well as two station breaks.
Going, Going, Gone
The Las Vegas Show, and the United Network, did not last long. The network could not afford to pay for access to AT&T’s interconnection services. Lack of working capital and limited advertising revenue contributed to the network’s financial woes.
How Many Episodes?
It’s unclear how many episodes of The Las Vegas Show were taped. Assuming it aired every weeknight during May 1967–and also assuming the final broadcast took play on Wednesday, May 31st–then a total of 23 episodes were broadcast. Contemporary reports suggest two or three additional episodes may have been taped and never aired, bringing the grand total to either 25 or 26.
By the time the United Network folded, 106 or 107 stations were either carrying The Las Vegas Show live or taping it for delayed broadcast. Because some stations delayed the series, it may have continued airing in parts of the country during the first few days of June.
Where are the Tapes?
The United Network filed for bankruptcy in June 1967. Among its assets were the videotapes of The Las Vegas Show. Although plans to revive the network were announced, they didn’t pan out. What happened to the videotapes? Were they destroyed? If not, where are they now?
“D.H. Overmyer Sells Interests in Proposed National TV Network.” Wall Street Journal. 6 Mar. 1967: 7.
Goldsborough, Robert. “1st Dana Show Has Stand-Up Qualities.” Chicago Tribune. 4 May 1967: 2B:6.
Gould, Jack. “TV: Dana Starts on United Network.” New York Times. 3 May 1967: 89.
“United tries its wings tonight.” Broadcasting. 1 May 1967: 51.
“United TV Network in Bankruptcy Plea.” New York Times. 23 Jun. 1967: 46.
Have you heard of The Las Vegas Show? Did you watch it during its single month on the air in May 1967? If so, what did you think? Hit the comments with your thoughts and comments.