For a city that promotes itself saying, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” Las Vegas actually gets a lot of television exposure. First there was “Vegs$,” starring the late Robert Urich as private investigator Dan Tanna; then there was “Las Vegas,” starring James Caan and Josh Duhamel, whose characters ran the Montecito Resort & Casino; and this fall, we have “Vegas,” starring Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis, in a series loosely based on the real life of former Las Vegas Sheriff Ralph Lamb, who was tasked to bring law and order to the gambling town back in the ’60s.
“It’s really about an era, and we get to play with a lot of mores that push the edge of 10 o’clock,” says executive producer Greg Walker. “We’re dealing with the violence of the era, the sex of the era, and the fun that is Vegas in 1960.”
“Vegas” will premiere on Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 10/9c on CBS, but before you tune in, check out five things you need to know:
The Premise: Ralph Lamb (Quaid) was a reluctant volunteer when he was drafted to the position of Las Vegas sheriff. He had had some experience in law enforcement as a member of the military police during World War II, so the mayor cajoled him into trying to solve the murder of a casino worker when the current sheriff disappeared. From that one case, a 20-year-long career was born. In the series, Lamb’s biggest nemesis is the fictional Vincent Savino (Chiklis), a ruthless Chicago gangster who plans to take Vegas by storm. As the story unfolds, these two powerful men engage in a fierce battle for control of the city.
“This is really when Vegas became Vegas as we know it today,” says Quaid. “Ralph had a lot to do with shaping that, and he was also part of the landscape before all of this happened. He is a fourth generation rancher, going back to the Indian wars. I think we all have kind of a fascination with Las Vegas, and I thought the idea of playing this era would be a lot of fun.”
Is it another CBS procedural? The majority of CBS series about law enforcement — “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” which also takes place in Las Vegas, “Criminal Minds,” “NCIS,” etc. — feature a case of the week. But “Vegas” will do more than that and also feature serialized elements.
“What we like about it is the mix of both,” says Walker. “We have the, I don’t want to say crime of the week, but there’s an investigation for the sheriff and his team, Jack Lamb (Jason O’Mara), Dixon Lamb (Taylor Handley), and Katherine O’Connell (Carrie-Anne Moss), to go through and try to crack, but it’s interwoven with this kind of larger mob canvas.”
“We call it the saga story,” says executive producer Cathy Konrad.”I think that the interest was to paint a broader palette, to make a bigger world, and I think that the network was seeing how cable has been playing in that arena. I think that this fit in a really nice basket for them, and it’s been energizing for everybody to be able to have that freedom as filmmakers to make something, to not be put in the procedural bucket and have to live there, and to know that you can get that story across but to have continuing stories for our cast that can grow. I think that’s the reason why we have this amazing cast, because they see that potential as well.”
The Cast: Quaid has not worked in episodic television since taking a role in “Baretta” back in the ’70s, but he says he has come to realize that there are a lot of exciting things happening now on the small screen.
“A lot of the best writers have come to television,” he says. “I think they feel like they have more control. When I was offered this, it was really about the team more than anything else, and the story really interested me. But, you know, [executive producer] Nick Pileggi, Greg, Cathy, [executive producer] Jim Mangold and everybody that was in it, it just seemed really authentic and a chance to really play a character and let him unfold over a long period of time.”
Most recently, Chiklis played a superhero in “No Ordinary Family,” but he is best known for his role as dirty cop Vic Mackey on “The Shield.” So what made him want to go back to the dark side?
“He’s certainly different than Vic Mackey,” Chiklis says. “He’s on the darker spectrum, like in the Vic Mackey mode, but I try not to make comparisons like that. This is a different guy, a different set of circumstances and a different time period.”
Location: Even though the series is set in Las Vegas, it isn’t going to be shot there. Las Vegas in 2012 in no way resembles the sleepy town it was back in the ’60s. So for the pilot, sets were constructed in New Mexico, but now, for the series, an authentic replica of Fremont Street, circa 1960, was constructed in Santa Clarita, Calif.
“It was the only place in the Los Angeles metro area where we could actually find enough physical space to build Fremont Street,” Walker says. “On the existing sound stages ‑‑ Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney ‑‑ there was not enough space anywhere to build the scale we needed. So we went to Santa Clarita where the — good omen — is where the first season of ‘CSI’ shot… So I’m pretty bowled over. It’s pretty fantastic.”
How can the sheriff and Vincent face off each week and not wind up killing each other? There are a lot of bad guys who never go to jail on TV series — think Tony Soprano or Wo Fat on “Hawaii Five-0,” so that will be the tension of the series. Will Vincent get caught? If he is going to get caught, might he take out Lamb?
“What’s interesting about it is as much as they are opposed ‑‑ Lamb trying to preserve what he believes are the values of the Old West while not being against progress, per se, and Vincent Savino trying to change the culture of Vegas, not necessarily as a mobster, but also as a man who has a quest for legitimacy, they [occasionally] find themselves on the same side of the law,” says Walker. “Not often, but often enough because there are worse people out there that are coming into vogue. So in order to kind of preserve this delicate balance, both of them move. It’s a shifting target. We certainly don’t want Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner every week.”
“Vegas” will premiere Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 10/9c on CBS.