Although he only wrote one episode, VEGA$ bore the stamp of series creator Michael Mann. It was a slick detective series set in Las Vegas – a place where, especially then, the flashy façade hid a grittier reality. The big hotels and casinos [like the long gone Stardust Hotel and The Sands] where not family friendly, but Family friendly. Dean Martin [and his producer Ken Lane], Wayne Newton and June Wilkinson [in Pajama Tops, boasts a marquee in one ep] were the big draws.
In this Vegas, Dan Tanna [Robert Urich] was the P.I. of note. He had a working relationship [strained, but working] with the Vegas police – especially Lt. Dave Nelson [Mission: Impossible’s Greg Morris] and Sgt. Bella Archer [Naomi Stevens]. His assistants included his secretary and ex-showgirl, Bea [Phyllis Davis], current showgirl Angie [Judy Anders] and gumshoe wannabe, Bobby Binzer [Bart Braverman]. Tony Curtis had a recurring role as casino owner [allegedly “connected”] Philip “Slick” Roth.
The second half of the first season was where the series found its footing and produced several of the show’s best eps. Like Ghost of the Ripper, in which a psychopathic butcher [John Larch] who believed himself to be the reincarnation of Jack Ripper began re-enacting the Ripper’s murders. It takes the help of a British university professor [Murray Matheson] to show the connection between the original Jack and the copycat [by showing how he’s following the patterns of the original – timing, similarity of the victims’ names and so forth].
In Kill Dan Tanna, Richard Lynch plays Tanna’s former CO from Nam, who has pit a very specific hit on the P.I. – one which requires his being able to watch, and one which almost kills Bea’s six-year old daughter, Julie [Julie Harris], whom Tanna is babysitting. The ep also makes use of Will Sampson’s [One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest] recurring character, Harlon Two-Leaf.
Muhammad Ali guest stars in The Eleventh Event, a kidnapping/ransom tale that also featured Robert Loggia and Clifton Davis. Other standout eps include: Doubtful Target [Leslie Nielsen in a dramatic turn as a corporate executive whose deep financial difficulties leave him with murder as his only option] and The Visitor [Tanna is hired to bodyguard a visiting Middle Eastern princess, played by Kim Cattrall].
For the period, VEGA$ was fast-paced and slick entertainment with a bit of an edge. The handsome Urich hadn’t yet developed the chops that he was to display in Spenser: For Hire, but he made for an engaging and occasionally imposing [he stood 6’4”] hero. The series only ran for three seasons but holds up as both an entertainment and a reflection of the old Las Vegas.
Features: Network Promos [the set would have been better without them…]
Grade: VEGA$: The First Season, Volume 2 – B
Grade: Features – D
Final Grade: B-