There’s always a nostalgia for Old School Las Vegas with Frank, Dino and Sammy bringing class to the oasis in the Nevada desert. Rarely does anyone praise the next step in the city’s evolution: Disco Vegas. The ‘70s was the time when the corporations elbowed the mobsters off the strip. When colorful carpet and geometric shapes greeted sweaty tourists in their double knit polyester. The beauty of this time is captured on Vega$: Season One, Volume One. Dan Tanna (Robert Urich) had a bit of the old school swagger as a private detective that cruised the strip in a red ’57 Thunderbird. He was a man’s man who knew how to ruffle the feathers on a showgirl. He was also part of the modern world with his car phone and 20 ft. high whip antenna to keep the calls rolling with him. He dressed in the height of ‘70s fashions. His heart might pump Ratpack, but his feet moved to the disco beat.
Before Michael Mann became connected to Miami Vice, he created Vega$. He wrote the pilot movie script for Aaron Spelling’s production company. He put the words into the insiders, hustlers and hookers. Yet you rarely hear Mann fanatics wondering when he’s going to make a motion picture based on Vega$. He really should since Tanna is such a great character. He lives in a converted warehouse behind Circus Circus. This is rather weird since he parks his car inside the place. Doesn’t the smell of motor oil and exhaust make it bothersome to his lady guests? Scoring with Tanna must have been like hooking up with the pump jockey in the back of the Shell station. His crew also hung around his pad. Dancer Phyllis Davis was his part-time secretary, Judy Landers was a ditzy showgirl that wore skimpy outfits and barely took phone messages. Bart Braverman was his comic relief flunky. Bart used this as a launching board to the first seat on Match Game. Will Sampson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) was Tanna’s old army buddy who knows how to knock heads around town. Tony Curtis was a casino owner who has Tanna on retainer for odd investigation jobs.
“High Roller,” the pilot movie, introduces us to the latest TV detective who earns his living doing the dirty work in Sin City. He’s hired to locate a teen runaway who is working as a hooker. We’re introduced to her as she rolls Michael Lerner (Godzilla). Michael Mann might have written this script, but it makes no sense. Lerner lets the hooker into his room and tells her he needs to take a shower. He shuts the bathroom door and leaves her alone with his wallet on the dresser. Who orders a prostitute and trusts her around their valuables? The guy deserved to get robbed. Tony Curtis needs Tanna to find out how Red Buttons is winning so much cash on the slots. The episode is stocked with classic guest stars including Scatman Crothers, Greg Morris (Mission: Impossible) and Dian Parkinson (The Price Is Right).
“Centerfold” has Tanna hired to stop a beauty from being blackmailed into a management deal. The side gig has him hunting down a lion that’s connected to Abe Vigoda (The Godfather) and Vic Tayback (Alice). “The Games Girls Play” has a brief cameo from Jeopardy‘s Alex Trebek during his High Rollers days. Mother Mishkin places a madame in jeopardy. Tanna thinks an evil real estate developer (Wild Wild West‘s Ross Martin) is out to killer her. Bart must repossess a car from Antonio Fargas (Starsky and Hutch). How can you hoodwink Huggy Bear? “Love, Laugh and Die” properly casts Jonathan Harris (Dr. Smith on Lost In Space) as a used car salesman.
“Yes, My Darling Daughter” makes Strother Martin (The Wild Bunch) the lost father of Lauren Tewes (The Love Boat). He’s a famous country singer who left a suicide note, but nobody found the body. Did he pop up at his daughter’s wedding to Lloyd Bochner’s son? The person who knows the truth is Slim Whitman. The excitement of this episode comes from seeing a cameo from Whitman Mayo (Sanford and Son‘s Grady). This episode has as much star power as an episode of Love Boat especially with the woman who played Julie at the center. “The Pageant” is the jaw dropper of the set for casting weirdness. Maureen McCormick gets raped and her father hires Tanna to find the attacker. Her father is played by Robert Reed. Mr. Brady wants the man that raped Marcia Brady. This was never a plot on The Brady Bunch. “Lost Women” has Cesar Romero (Batman‘s The Joker) abducting women to sell as hookers around the world. “Second Stanza” gives us a touch of The Tonight Show‘s Doc Severinsen.
Vega$ aired right after Charlie’s Angels on Wednesday nights. Three decades later the adventures of Dan Tanna are more fun to watch than the third season of the female detectives. Vega$ is captivating and kitsch with the Love Boat level guest stars. Perhaps the constant trips around Disco Vegas helps keep this show from being bogged down like a backlot detective show. It’s easy to get caught up into wondering which casinos have been leveled for the mega-casinos that now smash up against the Vegas Strip. Vega$: Season One, Volume One is a jackpot even if Michael Mann doesn’t treasure it.
“High Roller,” “Centerfold,” “The Games Girls Play,” “Mother Mishkin,” “Love, Laugh and Die,” “Yes, My Darling Daughter,” “Lady Ice,” “Millikan’s Stash,” “The Pageant,” “Lost Women,” “Second Stanza.”
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers are mastered off 35mm and reflect the detail in the frame. You’ll want to hit the pause button to read the headlining acts on the casino marquees. Nipsey Russell ruled the strip. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. You get to hear a lot of slot machine action in the background.
Episodic Promos (0:30) are before every episode except the pilot movie.
Vega$: Season One, Volume One gives the best exploration of Disco Vegas with Dan Tanna cleaning up the town. Urich looks boss tooling around in his convertible Thunderbird. He pulls off the vest look. Put on your polyester leisure suit and get ready for the bright glitzy charm that is Vega$.
CBS DVD presents Vega$: Season One, Volume One. Starring: Robert Urich, Tony Curtis, Judy Landers, Greg Morris and Bart Braverman. Boxset contents: 11 episodes on 3 DVDs. Released on DVD: October 20, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: Michael Mann, Tony Curtis, Vega$