Television is a vast wasteland, according to Newton Minow.

No wagering, please.

Posted: 18 October 2007 | posted by David J. Loehr |

Over at, they have an annual competition called the Dead Pool. It tracks the odds of failure of the new fall shows. Funny that a show set in a casino by way of Cop Rock isn't at the top of the list. I know, I know, it's hard to argue with Cavemen. But for my money, I think musical numbers will turn more people off than bad makeup and recycled must-see-tv jokes.

What I saw: Viva Laughlin.
Where it's at: CBS, Sundays @ 8pm
Who made it: Hugh Jackman and a bunch of other people
Glib headline: Craps.
What I thought: Laughlin? Really?
What I'll do: Dance on the grave before it's cold.

Don't get me wrong, I love musicals. (I work in theatre, so that's a relatively safe bet.) And I enjoyed Viva Blackpool when it was on BBC America. I thought it was Dennis Potter Lite, but that was all right, because I don't much care for The Singing Detective et al. The main reason the British version worked was because everyone committed to the conceit. Actors, directors, writer, everyone seemed to believe in what they were doing, and what they were doing was insane, a noirish murder mystery rock musical set in a casino.

Viva Laughlin is the show you'd expect from a description like that.

Aside from Hugh Jackman's turn with "Sympathy for the Devil," the pilot just lies there. Everyone seems a little uncomfortable, as if the only thought in their heads was, "At least 'Cop Rock' had original music." Or perhaps, "I need a new agent." There's a murder mystery, there's adultery, there's Melanie Griffith being utterly unconvincing as herself. And then Hugh strolls in, brings the show to life for a few minutes, and then everything's back to normal. And seriously, one reason for the sing-along/lip-synching of the original and the Dennis Potter shows is that they'd hired actors who can't/don't sing. But Hugh Jackman don't need no stinkin' Jagger. Right there, the show squanders its one natural, bona-fide resource by undercutting him with the real song.

And Hugh's the executive producer.

If you think about it, the core audience for this show will be turned off by the clumsy choreography, the karaoke singing, the cheese factor. And anyone who's mildly curious but doesn't otherwise like musicals will look at this and have all their prejudices confirmed. As for people who've seen the original British series, just forget about them. They've seen it done as well as it can be, short-run and unrepentent, not watered down in the hopes of attracting people over the course of 22 episodes a year for how many years?

It premieres tonight after CSI before settling into its regular timeslot. But is there really a crossover audience there? Unless the Vegas CSI folks go on a road trip...

How a network could look at this and order a series is beyond me. Okay, CBS may be desperate to experiment outside of their comfort zone. On the other hand, they've hosted the Tony Awards for how many decades? And what about live theatre--musical or not--in the so-called golden age of the 1950's? CBS was the place to beat back then, too. So all singing, all dancing isn't necessarily as much of a stretch as some are saying. All things considered, I'd have expected a lot more from them.

I'm not going to bother describing anything else, because there's nothing to see. At least with Cavemen, there's the rubbernecking factor, wondering if they'll make a decent joke or acknowledge the fact that they're cavemen. When it comes to extinction, my money's on Laughlin.