Why Ellen DeGeneres Refused to Appear in the 1997 ‘Ellen’ Crossover Event

On Feb. 26, 1997, ABC released a crossover event among four of its shows: Coach, The Drew Carey Show, Ellen, and Grace Under Fire.  The stunt programming called Viva Las Vegas involved cast members from each show appearing on the other shows. The concept attracted attention, but ultimately there were several snags in the plan. In fact, Ellen DeGeneres reportedly didn’t like the idea of the stunt and didn’t participate. 

Ellen DeGeneres holding a Golden Globe award
Ellen DeGeneres | Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Many networks had attempted crossover events

Crossover events weren’t anything new for ABC or other networks. In 1991, Steve Urkel from ABC’s Family Matters showed up on an episode of Full House. And that same year, Golden Girls, Empty Nest, and Nurses came together on NBC for one storyline. Plus, soap operas have become notorious for crossovers. 

However, just because each show has a substantial fan base, it doesn’t always mean a crossover will be successful. ABC’s Viva Las Vegas crossover involved shows with different settings and storylines. The characters wouldn’t necessarily have any reason to meet if it weren’t for the network’s intervention. 

How ABC crafted its Viva Las Vegas crossover event

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For ABC’s 1997 crossover event, characters from Grace Under Fire, The Drew Carey Show, Coach, and Ellen all ended up in Las Vegas and crossed paths. 

“First up was Grace Under Fire, where the titular character flies to Vegas to look into a retirement home for her mother-in-law Jean,” ScreenRant reports. “While there, she has a run-in with Drew Carey and Coach’s Luther at a nearby gambling table. Over on Coach, Luther arrives in town to hunt down Elvis memorabilia, finding himself in a bidding war with Mimi from The Drew Carey Show.

“Also making brief appearances were Paige Clark and Spence Kovak from Ellen. For The Drew Carey Show, Drew finds himself conned into marrying a waitress after going out for a few drinks. In the episode, Drew runs into Luther, Paige, and Spence at the craps table. Meanwhile, Grace tries selling him tickets to Cirque du Soleil.”

However, DeGeneres’ character stayed home in the storyline, and it reportedly had to do with the actor herself.

Ellen DeGeneres sat out the crossover event

According to the book Ellen: The Real Story of Ellen DeGeneres by Kathleen Tracy, DeGeneres was upset with ABC at the time because it kept shifting the time slot for Ellen. DeGeneres’ manager also got wind that the network was considering temporarily taking Ellen off the air to try out a new show. 

“Ellen was so angry, she walked off the set for a day,” Tracy wrote. “She also declined to participate in a Las Vegas-themed stunt planned for February sweeps, in which all the Wednesday sitcoms would be set in Las Vegas, with crossover appearances by the various cast members on each other’s shows.”

Also around that same time, DeGeneres was in the middle of contract negotiations. And she was waiting for ABC to make a decision about whether her character would come out as a lesbian, which ultimately did happen and became a notable moment in television history.