CBS takes us back to the 1960s tonight (9/25) with the launch of “Vegas” — starring Dennis Quaid as legendary Las Vegas lawman Ralph Lamb and Michael Chiklis as a casino owner fresh from the Chicago mob scene. You’ll recall that last season saw the launch of two similarly ‘sixties-set shows — “Pan Am” and “Playboy Club” — each of which wound up dying painful deaths.
“Vegas” will not suffer such a fate, producer Arthur Sarkissian is convinced, because his show “has so much more going for it.”
He points out that in “Vegas,” the era is secondary to the story and characters. “If you just show the period and pounce on people’s heads with the clothes, the music — if you elevate all of that, you have nothing. It’s the story. It’s always the story. I don’t care what they say, they can put superstars in a movie, fifty actors, I don’t care. If the story work, it works. This is basically the world of the Old West meets ‘The Godfather,’ that’s the core of it. I’ve never seen ‘The Searchers’ meets ‘The Godfather.’ It’s a world I don’t think anyone’s explored really well.”
Thus, if “Vegas” moves along into the Rat Pack era, viewers might see references or even depictions of Frank Sinatra et. al — but only as part of the authentic scenery. “Whoever is there, is there. We’ll stay true to it, but nobody is thinking about doing this gimmicky, like doing the things with fins on the cars, shake rattle and roll. I just want to tell the stories and be true to the characters.”
Sarkissian, the man who brought us the “Rush Hour” movies and other films including “While You Were Sleeping,” worked for years to bring Lamb’s story to screen, and brought in author-screenwriter Nick Pileggi (“Casino,” “Goodfellas”). Through the twists and turns of development, at one point he thought they would make two features out of it. Eventually, the saga that was too big and unwieldy for one, or even two two-hour movies landed at CBS.
Sarkissian admits, “We didn’t even think that Dennis would be interested in a TV show. His name was on the list, but we said, ‘He’s not going to do it.’ And then we got a call from his agent, who said that he’d like to meet. That’s how it started. He came aboard, and he is so good as Ralph Lamb. And Michael was always somebody that we were always very interested in, and of course CBS loves him.”
Chiklis did have some concerns going into his role as Chicago mobster-turned-Vegas casino owner Vincent Savino — and met with the shows producers and creators, “Nick Pileggi, Greg Walker, myself, Cathy Konrad and Jim Mangold. He basically talked about what he wanted to see from his end, his side, his world, which was music to everybody’s ears. He didn’t want Savino to be this thug. He didn’t want him to be this mobster killer who just shoots people. He can be very compassionate. He’s extremely strong with words. He’s a businessman. He’s not a gangster per se — but he really is, because if it came down to shooting somebody, he wouldn’t even blink an eye to take care of it. But there would always be a reason. Michael’s point of character was very strong and extremely valuable to the show. I think he and Dennis compliment each other wonderfully. The chemistry is great and that’s something that, you know, you can’t create or go out and find, or force.”
Meanwhile, Sarkissian continues moving forward on the feature side. He has his planned remake of Jean-Pierre Melville’s crime drama, “The Red Circle,” heading toward production. The script is in rewrite now, and “as soon as I get it, we’ll go out and cast it, and hopefully start in July in Hong Kong and Macau.”
And as for the latest chapter of his Chris Tucker-Jackie Chan franchise, “Rush Hour 4″? Referring to director Brett Ratner, Sarkissian says, “We’re talking to writers and we want to make sure that Chris and Jackie and Brett are on board with the storyline and everything.”
Sarkissian doesn’t know much about that story, but “I know it’s not going to be just the two of them going to another city and trying to solve something. I know it’s got to be more than that,” he says. “I always say, my best example what they did with a franchise after the third or fourth was ‘Fast and Furious,’ when they did ‘Fast 5,’ they took the characters everybody loved and planted them in the world of ‘Ocean’s 11′ — a heist story, so it gave it new blood. They brought in a couple of new faces and it just elevated everything. It’s a good example to keep in mind. You don’t just sit back and rest on your laurels and say, ‘Hey, the first two did great.’ You just have to give it the adrenaline all the time.”