Comedian Bill Dana, whose death at age 92 was announced Monday, was best known for his “Jose Jimenez” character in the 1960s. But he also had a small role in Orlando TV history.
In the summer of 1967, Orlando CBS affiliate WDBO-TV became a charter member of television’s “fourth network,” the United Network.
The first — and what would turn out to be the only — program on the United Network was “The Las Vegas Show” hosted by Dana, which premiered at 11:30 p.m. on May 1, 1967.
WDBO-TV was among 106 affiliates of the United Network to air the two-hour, late night variety show shot — as you probably figured out — in Las Vegas. Like WDBO, most of the stations carrying United’s “The Las Vegas Show” were CBS affiliates looking for something to counter program the king of late night, Johnny Carson and his “The Tonight Show” on NBC.
A lot of people thought Dana’s Las Vegas-based show could take on Carson. On the premiere episode, Dana’s guests were “Get Smart” star Don Adams, singer/actress Abbe Lane and comedians Allen and Rossi. Dana, of course, performed his “Jose Jimenez” bit. Other Las Vegas mainstays like Redd Foxx and Liberace would make appearances later.
Despite positive reviews and a decent audience, “The Las Vegas Show” — and the United Network — ended after just 31 days.
“We deeply regret we are obliged to advise you that the United Network ceased its inter-connected program operations as of May 31, 1967,” United Network president Oliver Treyz wrote in a wire to Channel 6, according to an account in the Orlando Sentinel. “Please be advised that the United Network staff has done everything possible in connection with our efforts to plan and launch the Las Vegas program and other United Network endeavors.”
The network’s decision to launch itself and its first show at the traditional end of the television season in May proved to be a costly one. By that time of year, most advertisers had already spent their budgeted money for the season and producers had trouble lining up sponsors. Producing the show from various hotels and locations in Las Vegas and feeding the video to affiliates turned out to be very expensive, too.
By June, Channel 6 was back to showing old movies at 11:30 p.m. and the 25 episodes of Dana’s “The Las Vegas Show” were lost and never seen again.