music reporter

'Viva' song and dance: Showrunners toss dice

It's like "High School Musical" for adults. There is something extremely sexy about Hugh Jackman dancing around a casino singing the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil." And Melanie Griffith does quite well singing Blondie's "One Way or Another" while vamping in lingerie. Lloyd Owen, who plays the lead character — freewheeling businessman and aspiring casino owner Ripley Holden — can even sing "Viva Las Vegas" without appearing too cheesy. Welcome to "Viva Laughlin."

The show, which premieres Oct. 18, then movies to its regular time slot Oct. 21 on CBS, is based on the successful BBC series "Viva Blackpool" and inspired by another BBC hit, "The Singing Detective." "Laughlin" is a musical comedy-drama chock-full of glitzy casinos, murder and great music.

"We're trying to really use music to forward plot and deepen character," co-exec producer Tyler Bensinger says.

Are U.S. audiences ready for a singing protagonist on network TV?

"I think this is the perfect time," says Steve DeKnight, the other co-executive producer. "If you look at what's really popular, its 'American Idol,' 'High School Musical,' 'Flight of the Conchords' or films 'Dreamgirls' and 'Once.' I think if ever there was a time to try something bold and daring and new like this, it's now."

Bensinger and DeKnight make an interesting team for such a show. Bensinger brings the murder-drama experience of "Cold Case" and USA's "Dragnet," while DeKnight was a key creative force behind "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel."

"I'm happy we have a lovely murder," Bensinger quips. "My (crime scene) procedural skills are still being used: 'We have a contusion on the back of the head.' "

DeKnight adds that "Laughlin" is character-driven.

"At its core, 'Buffy' and 'Angel' were very character-centered," he says. "Everything else — the visual affects, the fighting, the monsters — were all used to illuminate the characters." In the case of "Laughlin," instead of vampires, there is song and dance.

DeKnight adds: "We always know when we have found the right song for a character because our writers room erupts with everyone saying, 'I love that song.' You really get that gut feeling."

DeKnight and Bensinger hope to release a "Laughlin" soundtrack and an original cast recording.
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