Las Vegas has always been a popular setting for television shows. Shows can depict characters going to gamble or to see a show or even get married.
Shows such as Roseanne, Big Bang Theory, and Sanford and Son are just a few examples of popular shows using Las Vegas as a background to drive their plots home.
But over the years, Las Vegas has been the home of many television shows.
Las Vegas enjoys many advantages as a setting over many cities. These include:
- Las Vegas experiences able 3 weeks of rainfall each year.
- The city never closes, so filming can take place 24 hours a day if needed.
- Celebrities are willing to travel to Las Vegas as it is less than 400 miles from Hollywood.
- Hotels are accustomed to long terms stays by celebrities and know how to meet their unique needs.
- For studios, Nevada and Las Vegas provide dozens of tax advantages over California and many other states.
- For actors, Nevada has no personal income tax, so money earned while working there isn’t subject to state taxes in most cases.
- Actors and other celebrities can expect the same level of customer service when at restaurants, bars, and clubs in Las Vegas as it is a hub for entertainers and other luminaries.
- Actors can travel back and forth to Hollywood as needed to tend to other acting jobs or personal business.
Many TV shows that are set in Las Vegas don’t last for a long time, some only see 1 or 2 seasons. Some will even see less than that.
But there have been a few that have lasted years. But no matter how long they’ve lasted, they all shaped our image of Sin City and fueled the desire for tourists to want to experience more.
1 – Caesars Challenge
If there’s a more iconic entertainment resort in Las Vegas than Caesars Palace, I’d be hard-pressed to name it.
Stephen J. Cannell Productions, creators of shows such as The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, Hardcastle and McCormick, Hunter, 21 Jump Street, Wiseguy, and The Commish teamed up with Rosner Television, who created CHiPs and The New Hollywood Squares to develop Caesars Challenge.
The show was hosted by former Minnesota Viking’s Football player and sports commentator Ahmad Rashad.
The show itself consisted of 3 contestants answering trivia questions to solve a jumbled word on 9 different video screens designed to look like a giant slot machine.
The contestants would play for 3 rounds. The winner was the person with the most money at the end of the 3rd round. Players that lost were given consolation prizes unique to Las Vegas such as dinner at a restaurant in Las Vegas or tickets to a Caesar’s Palace show.
The winner advanced into the bonus round. This was called “Facing Caesars Challenge”. This round involved the contestant unscrambling 5 words in 30 seconds. If they were successful, they won a car and retired as a champion. If they couldn’t, they came back for up to 2 more shows to try and win the car.
The show also had an audience participation component. Each show, the host would go into the audience carrying a large bowl. The bowl contained a number of prizes including chocolate coins, casino chips, and $1 coins. The audience members that were chosen had an opportunity to unscramble 5 words on the board. Those that did so successfully, could grab a handful of the prizes from the bowl.
Unfortunately, the show only had a 6-month run. It was broadcast on NBC from June 14, 1993, to January 14, 1994.
It faced a number of uphill battles. First, it was given the 12:30 pm slot. Many affiliates ran the news. So some affiliates changed the broadcast time or just didn’t run the show at all.
In addition, the show faced serious competition from soap opera powerhouses The Young and the Restless on CBS and Loving on ABC.
2 – Blansky’s Beauties
The 1970s was the 1st decade in which almost every home in the US had a television and was the last decade that viewers were limited to 3 television networks. The next decade would bring cable and satellite TV and the FOX Network as an over-the-air option.
In the 1970s and 1980s, there were few shows that were more well-known and loved than Happy Days. By 1977, the show had been on the air for 3 years and had created stars of the entire cast including Henry Winkler as “The Fonz”, Pat Morita as “Arnold”, and Ron Howard as “Richie Cunningham”.
The show was a money-maker and was seen by many at ABC as a vehicle to create even more programming.
This was evident in the spinoff shows that derived from Happy Days (which was originally a spinoff of the 1969 to 1974 romantic comedy skit show Love, American Style).
Happy Days would see 7 spinoffs in their 11-year run, these included:
- Laverne & Shirley
- Mork & Mindy
- Out of the Blue
- Joanie Loves Chachi
- Mork & Mindy (animated series)
- The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang (animated series)
One Happy Days spin-off was a vehicle for acting veteran Nancy Walker. Walker had just come off a few shows including the Mary Tyler Moore spinoff Rhoda and her own show The Nancy Walker Show. Producer Garry Marshall saw an opportunity to sign Walker, who had also become a beloved household character due to her stint as Rosie the waitress in Bounty paper towel commercials and created a new show around her.
The show started with a Happy Days episode with Walker playing Howard Cunningham’s cousin, Nancy Blansky, a Las Vegas showbiz veteran visiting the 1960’s Milwaukee family.
The next week Blansky’s Beauties debuted. While Happy Days took place in the 60s, Blansky’s Beauties took place in 1977 (this also happened in the spinoff Mork and Mindy).
The show featured Walker as a house mother and choreographer for a number of Las Vegas showgirls.
The show was confusing to many viewers as characters from Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley appeared regularly as different characters. Eddie Mekka who played Carmine of Laverne & Shirley played a regular on Blansky’s Beauties named Joey DeLuca and was a younger cousin to Carmine (one of the few actors to be in 2 primetime shows simultaneously in the 1970s). Pat Morita, who’d left Happy Days for another series, reprised the role of Arnold in the show. Despite the time lapse, Arnold didn’t look 20 years older.
The show ran for 1 season and many characters were added (or re-added) to the Happy Days cast, including:
- Lynda Goodfriend (Richie’s girlfriend/wife Lori Beth)
- Scott Baio (Fonzie’s cousin Chachi Arcola)
- Pat Morita (Arnold, owner of the drive-in)
Marshall would try to retool the show and use many of the same actors in similar but different roles in the short-lived television show Who’s Watching the Kids? that aired for 9 episodes on NBC in 1978.
3 – Vega$
Aaron Spelling brought us great shows in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s such as Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, Dynasty, and Beverly Hills 90210.
In 1978, Spelling created a show centered around the life of a Las Vegas private detective named Dan Tanna (played by Robert Urich).
Tanna was a private detective for many high profile clients including hotel and casino owner “Slick” Phillip Roth (played by Hollywood legend Tony Curtis).
Tanna would investigate everything from murder to fraud cases for his clients.
Tanna had a unique living situation as he lived in a prop warehouse on the Las Vegas Strip that was owned by Roth’s character. This allowed for a lot of license for Spelling with technology and absurd situations like Tanna parking his car in his living room.
4 – Crime Story
This 1980s show was set 20 years prior in Las Vegas. It involved 2 rivals from Chicago, a mobster and a cop, who’re determined to destroy each other.
The mobster, Ray Luca (played by Anthony Denison) “gets made” and moves to Las Vegas to run casinos for the syndicate. Luca’s rival, Mike Torello (played by Dennis Farina) was a Chicago cop that’s moved to a federal Organized Crime Strike Force follows him.
The show only lasted for 2 seasons and won multiple awards during and after its run these included:
- 1987 Primetime Emmy: Outstanding Cinematography for a Series
- The Critics’ Choice- The Best of Crime and Detective TV: “Top 10 Best Police TV Series (Police Procedurals) of All Time”
- Time – Best TV Shows of 1986
- Time – Best TV Shows of the 1980s
The show was the basis for many TV shows and movies that followed including:
- The Sopranos
5 – Hearts Are Wild
Every show can’t be a hit, and Aaron Spelling found that out with Hearts Are Wild.
The show was a combination of Fantasy Island and the Love Boat set in Caesar’s Palace.
Each week, fictional hotel owner Jack Thorpe (played by David Beecroft) along with manager Leon ‘Pepe’ Pepperman (played by Jon Polito) and head of guest relations Kyle Hubbard (played by Catherine Mary Stewart) welcomed a bevy of guests who would get into various dramatic adventures.
While the show’s focus was on the employees of the casino more than the guests, several high profile stars appeared on the show including:
- Dick Van Patten
- Mickey Rooney
- Tom Bosley
- Bonnie Franklin
- Ricardo Montalban
- Khrystyne Haje
- Irene Cara
6 – CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
For 15 years from 2000 to 2015, anyone who watched TV was subject to the commercials for CSI featuring the classing rock band The Who singing their hit Who Are You.
CSI was a drama that focused on the forensic investigations team from the Las Vegas police department. The team is led by a quirky supervisor named Gil Grissom (played by William Petersen) who examine physical evidence to solve crimes.
During the series, Petersen left and was eventually replaced by Ted Danson, who played D.B. Russell who is brought in to “clean house” after a scandal rocks the CSI team.
The show featured a prominent cast over its 15-year run. Along with Danson, actors, Laurence Fishburne and Elisabeth Shue were series regulars.
The show was responsible for 3 spinoffs all under the CSI banner. They included:
- CSI: Miami
- CSI: Cyber (Washington DC)
- CSI: NY
The 15 years of the show yielded 337 episodes and garnered a worldwide viewership of over 70 million people and was the most expensive weekly primetime TV show to advertise on with spots in excess of $250,000 for 30 seconds.
7 – Las Vegas
The name says it all. This dramatic comedy ran for 5 seasons between 2003 and 2008 on NBC. The show featured popular actors James Caan, Marsha Thomason, Nikki Cox, and Tom Selleck.
Much like Hearts Are Wild, the show was centered around the staff of a hotel and casino. But in this show, the main character, Ed Deline (played by James Caan) was an ex-CIA officer who went from being head of security to becoming president of operations for the casino.
Caan left the series after 4 seasons and was replaced by Tom Selleck in an attempt to revive slumped ratings. The change didn’t work and NBC canceled the show after the 5th season without a series finale.
8 – Lucky
The movie Leaving Las Vegas was a popular, yet dark drama that focused on a broken man gambling and drinking away his last days in Sin City.
While not the complete premise for the TV show luck, it played a part in shaping the dark comedy.
The dark comedy, much like Leaving Las Vegas, features a man who’s just lost his wife. In this case, Sex in the City veteran John Corbett who plays Michael “Lucky” Linkletter.
Linkletter is a compulsive gambler who’s lost everything in his life, his wife, his family, and his money. The reason he lost everything is due to his compulsion and addition to gambling.
Linkletter’s solution is to gamble even more to make back the $1 million+ that he lost to his ex-wife.
In addition to Corbett, the cast was a vehicle for future starts Ever Carradine, Andrea Roth, Craig Robinson, as well as veteran actor Dan Hedaya
9 – Dr. Vegas
Despite having a strong cast, Dr. Vegas only aired for 5 episodes in 2004 on CBS.
Dr. Vegas was a drama that starred Rob Lowe as a doctor who leaves his job as an emergency room doctor to take a position as an in-house physician in a high-end Las Vegas hotel and casino.
Lowe’s character, Dr. Billy Grant tends to the needs of guests and staff of the casino, none moreso than that of the casino’s general manager, Tommy Danko (played by Joe Pantoliano).
Danko is responsible to make sure that the high rollers are catered to in the manner in which they’re accustomed to, ensuring they’re happy and become repeat customers.
The fast pace of casino life makes for some crazy situations that cause Grant to confront medical ethics and his conscience on a regular basis, often fueled by nefarious situations that were caused by Danko.
In addition to Hollywood heavyweights Lowe and Pantoliano, the show also featured other luminaries including:
- Chazz Palminteri
- Amy Adams
- Tom Sizemore
- Hal Sparks
Dr. Vegas filmed 10 episodes, but only 5 ever aired in 2004 from September 24th to October 29th, 2004.
10 – Tilt
ESPN isn’t known for original series that aren’t documentaries. But Tilt was an exception. Tilt was a drama that was designed to capitalize on the popularity of Texas hold ‘em and the World Series of Poker.
The show is set in Las Vegas where the fictional World Championship of Poker takes place. The name of the series is poker terminology for being thrown off emotionally while playing.
Michael Madsen plays Don “The Matador” Everest who’s a target of a group of poker players that aim to take him down. Each has a different reason for wanting to hurt him, including Lee Nickel (played by Chris Bauer) who believes that Everest killed his brother.
Everest usually wins due to sophisticated cheating schemes involving partners that help him win.
Everest’s enemies devise elaborate schemes to take down Everest, and in the end, he’s arrested by the FBI for cheating and murder, but the end of the series features a key witness against Everest found hanged in what was believed to be a suicide.
The show features many World Series of Poker bracelet winners in cameos including Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, T. J. Cloutier, and Erik Seidel.
11 – The Defenders
This 2010 CBS dramatic comedy takes place in Las Vegas and features 2 lawyers who go out of their way to help their clients while trying to manage their often chaotic personal lives.
The show starred Hollywood veterans Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell. It also featured Saturday Night Live alumnus “Not Ready For Prime Time Player” Dan Aykroyd.
The Defenders is loosely based on the lives of Las Vegas attorneys Michael Cristalli and Marc Saggese.
The show’s 18 episodes ran from September 22nd, 2010 to March 11th, 2011. Despite the popular stars of the show, it failed to connect with audiences and was canceled after 1 season.
The show isn’t related to the 1960s show of the same name that starred E. G. Marshall and Robert Reed.
12 – Vegas
Vegas (not to be confused with the 1970s series Vega$) was a series based on the real-life sheriff of Clark County, Nevada Ralph Lamb. It starred Dennis Quaid as Sheriff Lamb and Michael Chiklis as Vincent Savino, the manager of the Savoy Hotel and mob associate that is Lamb’s nemesis as well as Carrie-Anne Moss who plays Las Vegas Assistant District Attorney Katherine O’Connell.
The show, set in the 1960s saw Lamb and Savino clash over various crimes that take place in and around the Savoy.
The final episode sees Lamb and Savino team up to take out Porter Gainsley, a mining tycoon responsible for Ralph’s wife’s death and a mob rival of Savino’s.
13 – The Player
Wesley Snipes has had a long career in movies. He had starred in such films as White Men Can’t Jump, Demolition Man, Waiting to Exhale, Murder at 1600, and U. S. Marshals. But his television resume was limited to mostly 1-off appearance as a guest star.
That changed with The Player. The dramatic Action-thriller series followed the life of Alex Kane (played by Phillip Winchester), who was a security expert in Las Vegas. His life is shattered when his ex-wife is killed.
Kane tried to track down the murders and in the course of his search, runs into Snipes’s character, pit boss Isaiah Johnson who runs a unique gambling operation where a “player” is pitted against criminals. Gamblers bet on who’ll gain the advantage over a certain timeframe. Johnson recruits Kane as the latest player in the game.
Hollywood has certainly had its share of TV shows that were set in Las Vegas. The ones listed here don’t even include reality shows such as Fear Factor, King of Cars, King of Vegas, High Stakes Poker, Caesars 24/7 and many more.
While Las Vegas is an attractive target for network executives to target because many of the benefits I mentioned earlier, very few shows outside of the reality genre find long-term success.
But that won’t stop networks from trying. I’m sure that we’ll see many shows in the future that are set in Sin City because the allure of it is too much to resist.