It’s a sure bet your favorite TV show has done its “Vegas” turn. Check out the latest issue for our roundup of classic “Vegas” episodes of everything from “The Twilight Zone” to “Charlie’s Angels” to “The Family Guy” to ... well, fitting them all in was harder than watching a “Silver Spoons” marathon. Here are two we couldn’t wedge in: When Kojak came to town — well, by phone, anyway — and when Vegas appeared in “Crime Story.”
“A House of Prayer, a Den of Thieves,” Season 3, Episode 13
Original airdate: December 14, 1975
This one opens with a gloriously authentic tracking shot of vintage Fremont Street, from the old big-topped Plaza to the parabolic Mint. We eagerly await the iconic shot of a lollipop-sucking Telly Savalas rolling through Caesar’s, but it does not come. Indeed, Kojak literally phones in most of his role from a NYC office – which wouldn’t be odd if it weren’t for the fact that they did bother to get footage of him at McCarran Airport.
The actual star here is Vincent Gardenia as an ex-Metro detective who’s an old buddy of Kojak’s. This show was obviously intended as potential spinoff fodder: Gardenia’s crotchety detective comes complete with two sidekicks – a wisecracking cocktail waitress and beleaguered pit boss who help — as well as an adorable nephew. The title begs to be attached to a true crime novel or prog rock album and the plot is a bit of a mishmash of counterfeiters, murders and ripping of the collection plate at an evangelist’s revival meeting. But it’s soaked in Vegas atmosphere, from waking up beside a dice clock to 103 degree temperatures to watching washed-up comics audition in the big room. As a guy in drag swings upside down from a trapeze while playing a bass fiddle, Gardenia smiles, sighs and says, “Sometimes this town makes the rest of the world seem very sane.”
“The Battle of Las Vegas,” Season 1, Episode 17
Original airdate: February 6, 1987
This Michael Mann-produced drama told the story of a cop and his mobster nemesis, set in a pink-and-turquoise eighties version of the early sixties. At the end of season one, several episodes moved the narrative from Chicago to Las Vegas as the outfit closed in on controlling the Lucky Star Casino. The Versailles Room may be ersatz, but that really is the El Cortez marquee glowing in the background and the opening is a symphony of glowing downtown neon and shining Cadillac tailfins.
“The Battle of Las Vegas” refers to mobster Anthony Denison’s attempt to take over the resort workers’ union, and the attempts of cop Dennis Farina — back when only his sideburns were gray — to stop him. As you can imagine, things become heated and whenever a union president gets run over in a back alley, you can see as plain as the whitewall tracks on his back that it wasn’t no accident. A crucial role is played by punk rock icon Lee Ving as a corrupt union executive, having secret meetings and giving crazy speeches in a pompadour and shiny suit — directed to or not, he comes off an awful lot like Robert DeNiro. Crime Story was known for its interesting cameos and in the next episode, Debbie Harry pops up as the most expensive hooker in Vegas – not singing, but alternately imperious, bratty, seductive and frightened enough to be alluring without her siren’s act.