Dialogue: Gary Scott Thompson

NBC gambled -- and everybody's come out a winner

Prior to the inception of "Las Vegas," Gary Scott Thompson's biggest show-business credit was his script for 2001's "The Fast and the Furious" -- and it was exactly that high-octane flavor that DreamWorks Television, NBC and Universal expected from him for the small screen. The "Las Vegas" pitch scored in just the first few minutes, thanks to a combination of passion and real-life "crazy-ass" stories, as DreamWorks TV co-head and executive producer Darryl Frank recalls. Noel Murray sat down with Thompson for The Hollywood Reporter to discuss arguably the least-talked-about long-running hit show on TV.

The Hollywood Reporter: What kind of relationship did you have with the city of Las Vegas prior to pitching the show?
Gary Scott Thompson: Only that they took my money all the time (laughs). I loved Vegas from the first time I went, maybe because I loved "Ocean's Eleven," the (1960) original, and the Rat Pack, and that whole kind of cool thing. Once I moved out to Hollywood from New York in my 20s, a whole bunch of us used to head out there with the hundred dollars we'd brought to gamble, and get a thrill.

THR: Given how long the show has been on the air, do you feel like it's gotten the attention it deserves, from critics and from NBC?
Thompson: Obviously, I have a personal bias. We've gotten some very good quotes from a lot of different places. I think one of the New York magazines called us one of the funniest shows on the air, and a lot of other reporters have written that we're the most underrated and underappreciated. In some ways we're underappreciated by our own network as well. But that's just the nature of the beast. There is, on the flip side, something to be said for flying under the radar. Everyone forgets that when we came out of the box in 2003, we were given the Monday night at 9 p.m. time slot, up against "Monday Night Football" and "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "24." And I remember being at the upfronts and Jimmy Caan going, "We're dead." But instead, all four (shows) were in the Top 15 in the demo and overall, which is sort of unheard of. I know someone whose grandmother says she refuses to die before "Las Vegas" goes off the air -- which is a lot of pressure on me.

THR: Is there less pressure being on Fridays now, since you're not expected to pull a big number?
Thompson: What we're finding is that our DVR number is huge. Everybody's TiVo-ing us, basically. At first there was a little concern that the number was not what it should be, and then suddenly the three-day and seven-day DVR numbers got added, and we find an over 30% jump in viewers. And there's a lot of people downloading us too, which of course is what the (WGA) strike's all about.

THR: What's the status of the show, strike-wise? Are you done with production?
Thompson: We are, because of the strike, but we finished 19 of our 22-episode order. We also had two additional scripts they asked us to do just in case, so that brought us up to an unofficial order of 24. We got through 19 before the strike, so 19 will air. We're lucky that the episode we ended on was the first half of a two-parter, which gives us some kind of a cliffhanger if it ends up being the end of our season.

THR: Out of all the guest stars you've had on the show, both playing characters and playing themselves, who were you most excited to see?
Thompson: When Dennis Hopper and Jimmy Caan were walking down the hall together, I was like, "Whoa! It's Sonny Corleone and Easy Rider!" And to hear those two swap all the old stories. I mean, Jimmy Caan and Dennis Hopper have worked with everybody: Jimmy worked with John Wayne and Robert Mitchum, and Dennis was buddies with James Dean. Just sitting around, waiting for setups, listening to these guys talk about things that took place before I was even born, and that are now Hollywood history. That was an "I can't believe I'm here" moment.