Launching a new network series can be a harsh experience that can come to a brutal end before even getting going. Just ask Brian Bosworth. It’s not easy to make the next big network hit. All the focus groups and market research in the world isn’t going to guarantee a new show becomes a success. Sometimes the marketing and promotion pays off, sometimes it just lands with the projected audience from the start, while there are times a show that should have at least been given the chance to build from a solid beginning is canned due to the impatience of the not-exactly-artistically inclined business suits. But things are slowly changing in these times of television as prestige art form. This has been highlighted more strongly recently as following intense competition from streaming platforms the networks try to adapt from their old ‘overnights’ approach to ratings and longevity towards a more complicated mix of understanding what makes a series either that much desired hit, or at least a reliable performer.
An example of reliable performer is the CBS series Blue Bloods. It’s not a social media phenomenon or considered ‘prestige’, but it is a show that brings in decent ratings and is something the show’s fans enjoy when they catch. There’s a story arc of sorts if you want one, character development (in so far as it doesn’t threaten the structure of the series) and cases of the week in case that’s all you’re after, and it’s recently been renewed for a 9th season. A similar CBS show, that premiered a couple of years after Blue Bloods, tried much the same thing but lasted only one season. Vegas (2012) should have been another solid hitter for CBS but unlike Tom Selleck’s police procedural-meets-family soap tried to be a little too ambitious for its own good. The show has a superb pedigree, beginning with co-creator Nicholas Pileggi of Goodfellas and Casino fame. Pileggi had long wanted to do something (initially a film) on Sheriff Ralph Lamb, who had been the lawman that had been in place from 1961 to 1979 in Las Vegas during the time the mob developed the city from Bugsy Siegel’s dream into a multi-billion dollar reality of gambling and various vice. Pileggi had come across Lamb’s story during his research into the history of Las Vegas, but had never gotten anywhere with bringing the story to the screen. When word reached him the previously reluctant Lamb was now collaborating on a television version of his life, Pileggi got involved. Along too was other co-creator Greg Walker and executive producer and pilot episode director James Mangold.
Recruited to play an embellished-for-the-screen Lamb for the series was Dennis Quaid, taking on his first weekly series starring role. His opposite, the fictionalised Chicago gangster Vincent Savino, was a role filled by Emmy-winner Michael Chiklis. The supporting cast was rounded out by a number of familiar faces like Jason O’Mara, Carrie-Anne Moss and Sarah Jones. The show would feature guest stars like Jonathan Banks, Melinda Clarke and Michael Ironside. For the show, the early strip was recreated as a set, including the main road, and along with a handsome production design, period music and sharp costuming, gave the show a classy finish that firmly established place and time. It was designed to be a series that would each week mix the cases that Lamb had to solve as Sheriff with an ongoing story about Savino’s attempt to establish the Chicago outfit in the city and how this brought the two men into frequent conflict. The creators and producers perhaps enjoyed this second element a little too much, and as the series continued those cases of the week became less of a focus, and this increasing need for audiences to remember what happened ‘previously on Vegas’ probably did for it. As the series approaches its end, various arcs start to become intertwined and, rarely for a one season show, it was allowed to go out with a conclusion of sorts. There’s mileage there for a second season but, as there was not one, what we get is satisfying enough.
For those who enjoy a decent police procedural, and feel like something a little different, Vegas is easy to recommend. It’s certainly not Lamb’s true story, but nevertheless the historical focus means unlike those similar series (hello, first season Blue Bloods arc, we so very much mean you) the arc is tighter and more thought through. Equally, as Lamb becomes Sheriff against his better judgement, the cases he must resolve are often linked with the burgeoning city’s industries and are all the better for it. In little moments here and there, we get some lovely character beats and the occasional shock twist. Each character is served relatively well in terms of development and we don’t leave any of them where we found that at the show’s outset. It’s often action-packed, always interesting and is full of great performances, in particular Chiklis and Jones, and little asides that make it pop. It’s a shame the series didn’t continue, but at least what we have is definitely worthwhile spending time with, and if you do, you’ll find a show that is agreeably entertaining.