Desert Companion - September 2013
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HEAR MORE Vegas reality TV show “Bad Ink” features — what else? — awful tattoos. Hear an interview on “KNPR’s State of Nevada” at desertcompanion.com/hearmore television ting foot in Nevada. Not that going on-location assures the maximum glamorous city experience: For “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour,” the trip to Sin City did involve footage from the Sands, but spent most of its time meandering around a faux-desert with Fred MacMurray. Here are eight television episodes that actually made something of the myth of Las Vegas. Scandal! Excess! Sexy lady robots! Whether it’s social commentary or a satirical freefor-all, every TV show does a Vegas episode By Lissa Townsend Rodgers 32 | Desert Companion | September 2013 a Alfred Hitchcock Presents “The Man from the South,” Season 5, Episode 15 Original airdate: January 3, 1960 You had me at “Starring Steve McQueen. Guest Star, Peter Lorre.” “The Man from the South” is actually a short story by Roald Dahl that has been filmed a number of times (including a Quentin Tarantino adaptation). This first rendition remains the best, largely due to McQueen in all of his youthful, dashing glory as a smalltime gambler and the veteran character Lorre in portly ’n’ sinister Sidney Greenstreet mode as the man with an irresistible proposition ... It opens with a penniless McQueen lounging around the bar, chatting up a pert dancer i l l u st r at i o n : b r e n t h o l m e s A very special episode Almost every show that’s been on the air for more than two seasons winds up with a Las Vegas episode. Find some pretext to pack up the cast, dump them into a car or on a plane, point them toward Sin City and let the hijinks ensue! The dramatic possibilities inherent in gambling losses or wins/unplanned weddings/ alcohol-induced amnesia do seem irresistible to any writer mired in the season-three narrative doldrums. Vegas-based stories are also deployed to distract from stars-on-leave or provide the momentum for a spin-off. (“Will & Grace” sent the cast to Sin City during Debra Messing’s maternity leave; “Designing Women” took a private jet there to distract from the absence of Delta Burke.) But sometimes a “Vegas” episode is a little misleading. Often it’s just a soundstage in Burbank with some craps tables — “Friends” did two and a half Las Vegas episodes without set- The Twilight Zone “The Fever,” Season 1, Episode 17 Original airdate: January 29, 1960 This episode was inspired by Rod Serling’s own Vegas vacation: He decided to celebrate the successful first season on his new television show with a weekend in Sin City and found himself uncomfortably enchanted by the slot machines. Here, a woman wins a trip to Las Vegas from a commercial promotion — much to the chagrin of her husband, who is violently opposed to gambling. But when a stranger tosses hubby a coin and tells him to drop it in a slot machine, he does so … and is done for. Everett Sloane had played important supporting roles in “Citizen Kane” and “The Asphalt Jungle” and he makes the gambler’s compulsion believable: Pouring sweat, cranking the onearmed bandit for five hours at a stretch, babbling, “This machine mocks me, it teases, it beckons. Put in five, pay out four. Put in six, it pays out five …” His wife begs him to return to the room, but he refuses. He finally collapses and is hauled away, the gray-suited men pulling his wriggling arms, his feet scuffing across patterned carpet. Even when he’s back in his comped mini-suite, he hears it calling his name, spinning its cherries at him in the hotel room mirror, blinking its lights threateningly. “The Fever” wasn’t shot on location, but its visceral manifestation of one of the malevolent spirits of Las Vegas makes it fiercely accurate nonetheless.