Before he was a writer and producer on half-hour comedies like “Happy Endings,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “I’m Sorry,” Lon Zimmet would fly from his home in L.A. to Las Vegas on weekends to play poker. For a few short days, he would play poker, often earning enough to cover his rent for the whole month. Then he would fly home, usually surrounded by a motley crew of passengers just looking to get out of Sin City as fast as possible to put their hangovers and losses behind them. It was a lifestyle in which he later found inspiration, and the result is new workplace comedy “LA To Vegas.”
“There was this one particular flight back from Vegas that got delayed, and I just remember sitting in the airport when they made the announcement. This girl behind me just very loudly groaned and said, ‘Get me the f— out of here.’ And that [sentiment] makes it into the pilot episode,” Zimmel tells Variety. “When I was living that life, I was just in it, but then I looked back and saw there was a show there.”
“LA To Vegas” follows a regular flight between the two cities, with episodes often bookended by starting with the Friday flight out and ending with the Sunday flight back. This format lends itself to allow for a core group of characters including the pilot (Dylan McDermott), co-captain (Amir Talai) and flight attendants (Kim Matula and Nathan Lee Graham), as well as regular passengers including a chronic gambler (Peter Stormare), stripper (Olivia Macklin) and father whose son lives thousands of miles away (Ed Weeks). However, it also allows for a rotating guest cast as new passengers board each new flight.
“We’re really focusing on our core group in the beginning, and what we’ve found is everybody is funny, so you can pair anybody with anybody and have something great happen. That’s key in comedy,” executive producer Steve Levitan says. “But we do have some guest stars that will come through to flesh out the world, and we will be going to places outside of the plane [for that], too.”
Early guest stars include Kether Donohue and Nathan Kress as passengers and Dermot Mulroney and Josh Duhamel as rival pilots to McDermott’s Captain Dave.
In order to ensure that every episode is not a bottle episode that feels “too claustrophobic,” Zimmet says that time spent on and off the plane is “half and half” for the show overall, with key “off” moments including visiting Nichole’s (Macklin) place of work.
But Levitan notes that it was important in the first two episodes — which he also directed — to spend time on the plane to get a sense of the environment and the way everyone interacts in that heightened experience.
“All of ‘Cheers’ took place in a bar, all of ‘Taxi’ took place in a garage,” he points out. “What really matters is the interactions between characters. We come from a place of character first, and Lon really knows what he’s doing, and you really get a sense of who everyone is and their relationships to each other right [away]. Also, there’s something about planes — people say the oxygen level is different and you’re more likely to laugh or cry more than usual. That lends itself to comedy.”
“LA to Vegas” premieres Jan. 2 at 9 p.m. on Fox.