Tuned In: CBS's effort to boost 'Vegas' will wait until April, when drama moves to Friday nights

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CORRECTION: The original print version of this story was filed and published before CBS changed this week's schedule, bumping the return of "Vegas" in favor of "Golden Boy" remaining in the 10 p.m. Tuesday time slot.

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. -- CBS's "Vegas" returns in April after more than a month's pre-emption, moving to a new 9 p.m. Friday time period, a last-minute schedule change CBS announced Thursday afternoon.

For "Vegas," the last batch of episodes of the season -- beginning April 5 -- may be the show's last chance to convince CBS executives to renew the freshman drama for a second season.

In some respects, "Vegas" has been a success. Season to date the show draws an average 12 million viewers weekly and is tied with "Elementary" and "Blue Bloods" as the 16th-most popular shows in prime-time on a broadcast network. The problem is the show's demographic ratings, the same problem that plagued and resulted in the cancellation of NBC's "Harry's Law" last season.


When: 9 p.m. Fridays starting April 5, CBS.

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Michael Chiklis.

In the advertiser-coveted viewers ages 18-49 demo, "Vegas" draws just 2.7 million viewers and ranks No. 61 season to date. These statistics do not bode well for the series; its ratings next month on Fridays will determine its fate.

Producers are not going down without a fight. To that end the 1960s-period drama began a storyline last month that introduced a new Hollywood element to the Savoy, the Las Vegas casino hotel run by mobster Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis). Violet (Anna Camp, "The Mindy Project"), an ingenue, arrived in town and required multiple handlers, including Savoy talent manager Tommy (Enver Gjokaj) and sheriff's deputy Dixon (Taylor Handley), son of Vegas sheriff Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid), Savino's nemesis.

Upcoming episodes continue the story with Dixon falling in love with Violet and ultimately traveling with Tommy and Yvonne (Aimee Garcia) to Los Angeles to meet with record producers.

Notice the emphasis on the younger characters and the entertainment business? That's an attempt to draw more young viewers to the show.

At a January press conference on the expansive set of the Savoy, producers discussed the show's direction.

"The front half of the show was really about the East Coast coming to the West and taking over and the conflict between the old Vegas, as represented by Sheriff Lamb, Dennis' character, and the new Vegas by Vincent Savino, Michael's character," said executive producer Greg Walker. "We decided to twist it up a little bit as well and it turns out there is even a more menacing force than the East Coasters coming in, and that is Hollywood.

"The back half of the show is really Hollywood invading Vegas," he continued. "So you get characters coming from the bosses of a studio to starlets staying here to people who are keeping their mistress here for weekends to even worse. If you think the casino and the mob are bad, wait until you see the MGM police in 1960."

If these storylines bring in younger viewers, that's all the better for "Vegas."

"The real focus of our storytelling is to focus on what was fun in Vegas in 1960 and I think that appeals to all ages," Mr. Walker said. "The show probably had a more procedural slant at first and less so now. And I think the relationship sagas we're telling, especially focusing on younger characters and focusing on the young world that comes to Vegas, has to be more appealing to younger people."

Credit CBS for allowing "Vegas" to become less procedural and more serialized, leeway granted to few CBS shows other than "The Good Wife."

Mr. Walker created "Vegas" with 79-year-old author/screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, who scripted "Goodfellas" and "Casino." Mr. Pileggi said the 1960s were a key time in the development of Las Vegas, including the influx of entertainers.

"In '62 the Rat Pack starts. They were shooting [the original] 'Oceans 11' and they began doing that act at the Sands. That same year John F. Kennedy comes to town and that's a huge thing," Mr. Pileggi said. "And two years after that, Howard Hughes starts buying casinos. There is so much going on in the '60s. I thought it clearly was the richest period in which to dip into this story."

Mr. Pileggi had never written for television before "Vegas" but he's enjoying the weekly grind. He works out the writers' room -- adjacent to the soundstage -- five days a week, contributing to story structure and punching up dialogue, particularly lines for the mobster characters.

"I love it. I've never done a series but it's fascinating," he said. "A series is a totally different animal. It grows as you write it. Some of these actors, Michael and Dennis, they pick up stuff in the script that I missed and they pop it so it gets a little better and you begin to see, I can go in that direction. I can see how series grow, how the drama grows and I feel we're in a very good groove right there."


Follow Scripps Howard News Service TV writer Rob Owen on Twitter or Facebook under RobOwenTV. E-mail him at rowen@post-gazette.com. First Published March 10, 2013 5:00 AM


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