If the Emmys proved one thing it’s that cable is making the most quality shows currently on television. Not a single network drama was nominated and for the 12th year in row HBO led the nominations with 81. These are gritty crime series, complex character studies and overall shows that do not pander to the lowest common denominator. Rather, they respect their audiences enough to craft well written and perfectly executed programs. And people are watching these shows, perhaps not in the numbers that network reality shows may attract, but a lot of that may be due to availability. Either way, there is enough of an audience that it’s clear there is a discernable market for well-made television. So it would seem to me networks would notice this shift in trends and tailor their new dramas to attract this growing audience. But it seems I am mistaken.
The early trailers for Vegas had signs of potential. It really seemed like CBS was taking note of what was working on cable and attempting to bring it to their network. It’s set in the 60’s, during the rise of Las Vegas into the institution we know today. A premise that is rife with gritty drama; between the dirty mob dealings, old school style law and the undeniable glamour of Vegas. They brought in heavy hitting actors like Michael Chiklis, who has already proven himself more than capable of delivering gritty crime on the (cable) hit The Shield, and Dennis Quaid, who I remember as being a very talented actor, but the last two things I’ve seen him in (this and Footloose, don’t ask) do not support that memory.
But Quaid’s lack of range beyond angry and really angry are only the beginning of the problem. In an attempt to bring the magic of cable to Vegas the creators decided to focus only on what cable shows are able to get away with, i.e. more sex and violence. While it’s true that HBO and the like do pepper their shows with these elements, they are merely one ingredient to an already amazing dish. A show should be able to stand on its own without depending on these minor plot points to drive the narrative. What’s more is that on Vegas the attempts to include more violence are done extremely poorly. The action scenes are laughable at best and the so called gritty mob scenes read more like a student production of Goodfellas.
Really the problem is that the creators decided to use aspects that made other shows hits without really watching or understanding what people liked about those shows. I imagine the creative process went something like this. “Hey, people love Mad Men let’s set it in the 60s. And people lost their shit over The Sopranos, maybe there should be a mafia element. Oh, and everyone loves a procedural crime drama, let’s make it that too. Do you think we should make the characters multidimensional and interesting? Nah, who likes that, hey, do you think that kid who held Marissa hostage on The O.C. is available? Let’s discuss it over lunch. Good meeting, guys.”
The problem is throwing a bunch of well-made dishes into a blender doesn’t make a soufflé. It makes a mess that roughly resembles vomit, and that what they got with Vegas too.
– Devin Mainville