Dan Tanna (Vega$)

Created by Michael Mann

The car, the jeans, the MAN!

Remember all those great P.I. shows from the seventies? Well, this was a cheese of another colour.

Television’s slick Vegas (Oh, sorry — Vega$) private eye DAN TANNA tooled around town in his flashy, bright red and immaculately restored 1957 T-Bird convertible, complete with .44 Magnum and phone in the popular but cheesy Vega$ (1978-81, ABC).

Played by the always affable Robert Urich, Dan had a cool pad/office in the Desert Inn Casino and Hotel, owned by Philip Roth, who had the detective on retainer. But Dan did work for all the casinos, and seemed to know everyone, including the ton of celebrities who wandered through the show, possibly looking for the exit.

Tanna wore jeans, was properly tough, and got into a lot of cases involving beautiful women. He also had two secretaries: a smart one, Beatrice, and a dumb one, Angie. And he could count on the help of his two Vietnam buddies, Harlon Two Leaf and Costigan, as well as occasional aid from Sergeant Bella Archer of the Vegas PD. Adding a (small) amount of much-needed grit, Greg Morris (Barney from Mission Impossible) had a recurring role as a rather nasty cop with a grudge against Tanna.

But throughout the series Tanna makes it abundantly clear he is not a bodyguard and he does not do divorces. Mostly, it seems, he rescues damsels in distress. Particularly if they’re knock-outs.

Unfortunately, whether intentionally or not, Vega$ was as slick and shallow as the glitter amidst which it was set. Instead of well-written scripts, or good acting, the show contented itself with style, mostly in the form of chintzy, Vegas-type glamour: guest stars and celebrities playing themselves, playing bit roles or appearing in cameos. It felt like the most star-studded TV private eye show in history, with appearances by such schmaltzy Vegas “stars” types such as Morey Amsterdam, Shelley Fabares, Shelly Berman, Sid Caesar, Cesar Romero, Doc Severinson, Muhammad Ali, Lola Falana, Minnesota Fats, Dean Martin, Barbi Benton, Shelley Winters, Wayne Newton, the Captain and Tennille, Rodney Allen Rippy and even Bert Cohen, the president of the Desert Inn, appearing as — who else? — himself.

I mean, really…

Wayne Newton?

Lola Falana?

The Captain and Tennille?

Gimme a break!!!

No wonder Urich eventually ended up starring in the re-launch of Aaron Spelling’s Love Boat.

It was the beginning of the end for television private eyes for adults, arguably the last gasp of the genre’s Golden Age on American television. Subsequent P.I. shows in the eighties and nineties seemed unable or unwilling to break the formula that Vega$ nailed down. The dicks got younger and smarmier, and every possible cliche was recycled, from the handsome, glib, jeans-clad eye with the sports coat, the cool car and the ditzy secretary to the cool location, the beautiful clients, the war buddies, etc., etc.

Still, the Aaron Spelling produced show was the first TV series to be filmed entirely in Las Vegas, and as I said previosly, proved to be quite popular, although it petered out after three seasons and wasn’t renewed for a fourth.

And the show definitely made its mark in marketing, with a whole slew of merchandise (toys, games, puzzles, etc.) spun off, often featuring the car. In fact, during a talk show interview, Robert Urich once complained that “That car got more fan mail than I did!”

Nobody ever tried to peddle model kits of Harry O‘s The Answer, or toys of Rockford‘s trailer.

A few years later, Robert Urich did the P.I. tango all over again in Spenser: For Hire  (based on Robert B. Parker’s popular Boston sleuth) — a show that tried a bit harder, but too often only ended up as a more pretentious and less star-studded version of Vega$, albeit without any appearances from Lola or Dino. Again it was Urich’s charisma more than anything that kept the show going.

Series creator Michael Mann went on to create the equally shallow (but much more stylish) Miami Vice, and executive produce the excellent and aptly-titled Crime Story, and to direct Daniel Day Lewis as proto-private eye Natty “Hawkeye” Bumppo in Last of the Mohicians.


  • Max Franklin, who penned the paperback novelization, was a pseudonym of Richard Deming, the creator of P.I.s Manville Moon and Barney Calhoun.
  • Dan Tanna’s name was inspired by one of producer Aaron spelling’s favourite Los Angles’s landmark eateries, Dan Tana’s on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, which opened way back in 1964 and is still going strong.


  • “I was speaking to a friend today and we were discussing old P.I. shows. I always used to hear in the background when Dan Tanna would enter the hotel, “Bert Cohen, paging Mr. Bert Cohen”. Thanks to your website, I now know he was the real owner of the Desert Inn and that he actually made an appearance. Although I don’t remember him , I’m glad I finally know who he is. Thanks.”
    — Mardriss Nelson


  • VEGA$
    (April 25, 1978, ABC)
    Written by Michael Mann
    Directed by Richard Lang
    Produced by E. Duke Vincent
    Executive Producers: Aaron Spelling and Douglas S. Cramer
    An Aaron Spelling Production
    Music by Dominic Frontiere
    Starring Robert Urich As DAN TANNA
    and Tony Curtis As Philip “Slick” Roth
    Also starring Phyllis Davis as Bea Travis
    Bart Braverman as Benji Binzer
    Judy Landers as Angie Turner
    Naomi Stevens as Sgt. Belle Archer
    Greg Morris as Lt. Dave Nelson
    and Will Sampson as Harmon Twoleaf
    Also starring Chick Vennera, Michael Lerner, Elissa Leeds, June Allyson, Red Buttons, Edd Byrnes, Scatman Crothers, Jack Kelly, Johnnie Collins
  • VEGA$ Buy the complete series
    (1978-1981, ABC)
    66 episodes, all 60 minutes, unless otherwise noted
    Created by Michael Mann
    Writers: Burton Armus, Fred Frieberger, Ron Friedman, Richard Carr, Milt Rosen, Jeffrey Hayes, John Frances Whelpley, Larry Alexander, E. Nick Alexander, Jeff Myrowd, Bill Strattond, Dennis Donnelly, David Harmon, Larry Forrester, Brian McKay, Robert Earll, Gerry Davis, James Schermerer, Gerry Davis, Valerie Allan, David Harmon, Leo Garen, Ken Pettus, Pat Dunlop & Carol Saraceno, Dallas L. Barnes, Elaine Newman, Jack Turley, Martin Roth, Robert Swanson, Chick Vennera, Pat Dunlop, Judy Burns, Albert Alley, Robert E. Swanson, Herman Groves, Bill Stratton, Anne Collins, Robert Urich (story), Richard Kenneth Wells, Bill Stratton
    Directors: Don Chaffey, Mark Daniels, Larry Dobkin, Lawrence Doheny, Paul Stanley, Harry Falk, Sutton Roley, Bernard Mceveety, Bob Kelljan, Curtis Harrington, George McGowan, Cliff Bole, Phil Bondelli, Alf Kellin, Phil Bondell, Lewis Teague, Alf J. Jellin, Michael S.McLean, Ray Austin, Gabrielle Beaumont, Charles Picerni, Dennis Donelly
    Executive Producers: Aaron Spelling and Douglas S. Cramer
    Theme by Dominic Frontiere
    An Aaron Spelling Production
    Starring Robert Urich As DAN TANNA
    Also starring Tony Curtis, Phyllis Davis, Bart Braverman, Judy Landers, Naomi Stevens, Greg Morris, Will Sampson As Harmon Twoleaf
    Guest stars: Kim Basinger, Melanie Griffith, Dane Clark, Abe Vigoda, Morey Amsterdam, Shelley Fabares, Shelly Berman, Alex Trebeck, Troy Donahue, Anne Francis, Sid Caesar, Ross Martin, Dorothy Malone, Bill Dana, Strother Martin, Lloyd Bochner, Slim Pickens, Cameron Mitchell, Barbara McNair, Isabel Sanford, Robert Reed, Maureen McCormick, Moses Gunn, Cesar Romero, Joseph Campanella, Doc Severinson, Tom Urich, Mamie Van Doren, Christopher George, Lynda Day George, Michael Conrad, Muhammad Ali, Robert Loggia, Keye Luke, Joan Van Ark, Leslie Nielsen, Henry Darrow, Lola Falana, JoAnn Pflug, Minnesota Fats, Dean Martin, James Luisi, Pat Hingle, Eve Arden, Barbi Benton, Gary Crosby, Lisa Hartman, John Colicos, Shelley Winters, Wayne Newton, Susan Howard, Chick Vennera, Dennis Cole, Lloyd Bochner, James Darren, Johnny Seven, Capt. Darryl Dragon & Toni Tennille, Rodney Allen Rippy, Wolfman Jack, Michelle Phillips, Tanya Roberts, Joseph Campanella, Barry Sullivan, Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Erin Gray, Victor Buono, Gary Lockwood, Stepfanie Kramer, Jill St. John, Priscilla Barnes, Lindsey Bloom, Joe Penny, June Lockhart, Dick Butkus, Michael Constantine, Noah Beery, Jr, Patrick Macnee, James MacArthur, Harry Guardino, Simon Oakland, Richard Basehart, Broderick Crawford

    • Season One Buy Volume One on DVD Buy Volume Two
    • “Centerfold” (September 20, 1978)
    • “The Games Girls Play” September 27, 1978)
    • “Mother Mishkin” (October 11, 1978)
    • “Love, Laugh Or Die” (October18, 1978)
    • “Yes, My Darling Daughter” (October 25, 1978)
    • “Lady Ice” (November 1, 1978)
    • “Milliken’s Stash” (November 8, 1978)
    • “The Pageant” (November 15, 1978)
    • “Lost Women” (November 22, 1978)
    • “Second Stanza” (December 6, 1978)
    • “Serve, Volley And Kill” (December 20, 1978)
    • “Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” (January 10, 1979; aka “Ghost Of The Ripper”)
    • “The Eleventh Event” (January 17, 1979; aka “The Eleventh Planet”)
    • “Kill Dan Tanna” (January 24, 1979)
    • “Death Mountain” (January 31, 1979)
    • “Best Friends” (February 7, 1979)
    • “Demand And Supply” (February 14, 1979)
    • “Everything I Touch” (February 28, 1979)
    • “Doubtful Target” (March 7, 1979)
    • “Touch Of Death” (March 14, 1979)
    • “The Way To Live” (May 2, 1979)
    • “The Visitor” (May 9, 1979; aka “An Eastern Princess”)
    • Season Two Buy Volume One on DVD Buy Volume Two
    • “Red Handed” (September 19, 1979)
    • “The Usurper” (September 26, 1979)
    • “Mixed Blessings” (October 3, 1979)
    • “Runaway” (October 24, 1979)
    • “Design For Death” (Or Designs) (October 31, 1979)
    • “Shadow On A Star” (November 14, 1979)
    • “Dan Tanna Is Dead” (November 21, 1979)
    • “Macho Murders” (November 28, 1979)
    • “Classic Connections” (December 19, 1979)
    • “Night Of 1000 Eyes” (January 2, 1980; aka “Private Eye Connection”)
    • “Lost Monday” (January 9, 1980)
    • “Comeback” (January 16, 1980; aka “Casualty Of War”)
    • “All Kinds Of Love” (January 23, 1980)
    • “Magic Sister Slayings” (January 30, 1980)
    • “The Lido Girls” (February 6, 1980)
    • “Consortium” (February 27, 1980)
    • “The Hunter Hunted” (March 5, 1980)
    • “The Man Who Was Twice” (March 12, 1980)
    • “Golden Gate Cop Killer” (March 19, 1980; 2-hour episode; aka “Ladies In Blue’)
    • “Siege Of The Desert Inn” (April 30, 1980)
    • “Vendetta” (May 7, 1980)
    • “The Day The Gambling Stopped” (June 18, 1980)
    • Season Three Buy Volume One on DVD Buy Volume Two
    • “Aloha, You’re Dead” (November 5, 1980, 2-hour episode)
    • “Black Cat Killer” (November 11, 1980)
    • “Sudden Death” (November 19, 1980)
    • “Love Affair” (November 26, 1980)
    • “A Deadly Victim” (December 3, 1980)
    • “Deadly Blessings” (December 10, 1980)
    • “Christmas Story” (December 17, 1980)
    • “The Andreas Addiction” (December 24, 1980)
    • “Time Bomb” (January 9, 1981)
    • “Sourdough Suite” (January 14, 1981)
    • “Murder By Mirrors” (January 21, 1981)
    • “Backlash” (February 18, 1981)
    • “Heist” (February 25, 1981)
    • “No Way To Treat A Victim” (March 4, 1981)
    • “Nightmare Come True” (March 11, 1981)
    • “Out Of Sight” (March 15, 1981)
    • “Set Up” (March 25, 1981)
    • “The Killing” (April 15, 1981)
    • “Seek And Destroy” (April 22, 1981)
    • “Dead Ringer” (April 29, 1981)
    • “French Twist” (March 6, 1981)
    • “Judgement Pronounced” (May 27, 1981)


  • Vega$ (1978, by Max Franklin, based on pilot by Michael Mann)


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. And thanks to Mike Woods for helping me put the record straight.

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