Gamble pays off for Peacock

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas — unless you want millions of people to see it. Then you’ve got to come up with a combo of flash, substance, drama and action to get audiences to tune in every week.

That mix is what NBC’s “Las Vegas” has been aiming for. The storyline centers on Josh Duhamel’s casino security expert Danny McCoy, who operates under mentor Big Ed Deline (James Caan) and can’t help but get wrapped up in his co-workers’ complicated lives. The high drama includes nabbing crooks, stopping bombs and, of course, making way for a wet T-shirt contest or two.

“I know that we’ve gotten compared to the shows from the ’70s, like ‘Love Boat,’ ‘Rockford Files,’ ‘A-Team,’ ‘Starsky & Hutch,’ ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and ‘Dukes of Hazzard.’ Guess what? Thank you for the compliment,” says show creator Gary Scott Thompson. “They were all shows that people really enjoyed and still talk about.”

With the high volume of bikini-clad girls, not to mention four gorgeous gals (Nikki Cox, Vanessa Marcil, Molly Sims and Marsha Thomason) in the ensemble cast, and wild camera shots — technically called “wooshes” by the staffers — zooming throughout the fictional casino, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the glitz and glamour of “Las Vegas.”

But during its debut season, episodes were written for all seven principal cast members, bringing personal issues into the mix and even ripping a topic from the headlines when Duhamel’s character, a former Marine, was called back into active service for a teary season finale.

“When you’ve got all of the wild stuff in Las Vegas, you don’t have to play it up,” explains Duhamel. “We’re more like these normal people who just happen to work in a place like this. I think that makes it more interesting, because we’re on the inside of this madness.”

And much of the madness is true, according to Thompson. “We take research trips to Las Vegas and ask the real security guys if it’s too far-fetched if we do X, Y and Z. They say, ‘Are you crazy? That happens all of the time,’ ” he says.

The frivolity of the show has attracted more willing guest stars — Paris Hilton, Sean Astin and Dennis Hopper — than writers know what to do with. “Alec Baldwin came on the show and said, ‘I had such a great time, you guys have to think of a way to get me back,’ ” says Thompson.

Duhamel and crew will certainly be ready for viewers to return next season. But if they have to TiVo an episode in order to hit the real tables in Sin City, that’s fine, too.

“Vegas is an assault on your senses that most people really like,” says Thompson. “That was my idea of creating the show: I’ll bring Vegas to you once a week. At the end of the episode if people say, ‘I want to go to Vegas,’ then I’ve done my job.”

Best episode: “Always Faithful” combined counterfeiting thieves, tear-jerking drama when former Marine Danny was called back to active duty, and one killer right hook by Big Ed.

Most complex character and why: Big Ed. The former military vet has age and stories over his younger counterparts — and knows how to carry himself around those Las Vegas old-timers.

What should happen next season: First, get Danny back from the war-torn desert to the Nevada desert; then keep having all of the cast members participate in the storylines. The best episodes incorporate everyone to resolve an issue.

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