If "Elementary" is CBS's sure thing, "Vegas" is the network's long shot. It also has the potential to be CBS's best new fall series.
This crime drama will prove an interesting test case. A 1960s period piece, it follows last year's bombs "Pan Am" and "The Playboy Club," but it also generates a Western vibe, which is once again in fashion, thanks to the success of FX's "Justified," A&E's "Longmire" and AMC's "Hell on Wheels." Who knows which way "Vegas" will go, but it seems destined to skew older in demographic ratings, given its casting, tone and setting.
Dennis Quaid stars in "Vegas" (10 p.m. Tuesday, KDKA-TV) as Ralph Lamb, a real-life Las Vegas sheriff whose own adventures in law enforcement inspired the series.
Viewers meet Lamb as he gallops after an airplane that spooks his cattle herd. All the man wants to do is ranch in peace, but he's quickly called upon by the city's mayor, who served with Lamb in World War II, to investigate the murder of the Nevada governor's niece after Las Vegas' sheriff goes AWOL. By the pilot's end, Lamb has the job permanently.
The plane that so annoyed Lamb also brings to town his future nemesis, mobster Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis, "The Shield"), who's come to check on his investment in the Savoy Casino, which is not making money.
Lamb and Savino have their first tussle in Tuesday's premiere, but their beef with one another is sure to grow as the series continues. The murder mystery is less interesting than the prospective plots involving Las Vegas politics -- the mayor and district attorney appear to be in the pockets of Savino and other casino owners -- but this being CBS, the show's procedural elements will probably dominate.
Lamb's neighbor, Katherine O'Connell (Carrie-Ann Moss, "The Matrix"), is an assistant district attorney whose boss assigns her to hand-hold the murder victim's mother. Katherine seems like a potential love interest for widower Lamb, whose primary companions are his levelheaded brother, Frank (Jason O'Mara, "Terra Nova"), and Ralph's troublemaking son, Dixon (Taylor Handley, "Hidden Palms").
Mr. Quaid, who exudes a Harrison Ford-like world weariness, makes for an appealing CBS drama star. He's an old-school hero who can get away with violating a suspect's (and a suspect's lawyer's) civil rights -- repugnant as that sort of storytelling may be -- thanks to the twinkle in his eye and viewers' blase acceptance of a hero's methods.
For Mr. Chiklis, this role seems like a step back from his "Shield" character, Vic Mackey. So far, Savino is a two-dimensional cipher compared to Vic.
CBS, recognizing how testosterone-heavy "Vegas" is in its pilot, added another cast member this summer. Actress Sarah Jones, who starred in Fox's "Alcatraz," will appear as a mob princess who works in the casino.
If "Vegas" goes the "Good Wife" route and focuses on characters and politics, it could develop into a worthwhile series. But not many CBS shows get that kind of latitude in serialization. So "Vegas" may just be a risky gamble in premise that doesn't take chances in storytelling.
There's virtually no risk in CBS's take on Sherlock Holmes. "Elementary" (10 p.m. Thursday, KDKA-TV) is a prototypical, well-made CBS crime drama.
Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller, "Eli Stone") is newly out of rehab and has relocated from London to New York where his father has hired him a "sober companion" (AKA "addict sitter" ) in the form of Joan Watson (Lucy Liu, "Southland"), a former surgeon with a painful past.
Like the Sherlock Homes of yore -- and of PBS's current "Masterpiece Mystery!" Sherlock -- this version of the character notices every little detail. The big difference is that "Elementary" plays up the character's addictive personality and layers in some mystery about prior events in London involving a woman.
Compared to the Benedict Cumberbatch iteration of the character in PBS's "Sherlock," Mr. Miller's rendering of the role is less gonzo. His Holmes remains impulsive, supercilious ("The police think lots of things -- It's adorable," Sherlock says) and occasionally cruel to Watson, but Mr. Miller's Holmes quickly apologizes.
Ms. Liu's Watson spends the bulk of Thursday's premiere reacting to Holmes; let's hope her character gains definition.
Holmes previously worked as a consultant to Scotland Yard, and in New York he'll serve the same role with the NYPD, interacting with supportive Capt. Toby Gregson (Aidan Quinn).
"Elementary" entertains intermittently, particularly in exchanges between Holmes and Watson, but its draw will be strongest among viewers who can't get enough crime dramas in their TV diet.
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published September 23, 2012 4:00 AM