Viva Laughlin



10-11 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18

Whatever the opposite of buzz is, "Viva Laughlin" has it in spades. Based partly on intuition and partly on the dismal performance of "Cop Rock" 17 years ago, the expectation of many is that "Viva Laughlin" will fold faster than a bad hand at a high-stakes poker table.

It might. Then again, smart scheduling, an appealing cast and viewer desire for something new and different could make a sleeper hit out of this adaptation of the much-praised six-part BBC series "Viva Blackpool."

I say this not just because it's important to encourage new dramatic forms but because, based solely on the premiere, "Laughlin" is fun to watch. It's not going to rack up award nominations, but it's refreshing and entertaining. Lloyd Owen, in particular, playing a character made up of equal parts Damon Runyan and Horatio Alger, has enough energy and charisma to make up for most of the show's shortcomings.

Owen plays Ripley Holden, who built a local chain of convenience stores and then cashed them in to get a toehold in Laughlin, part of Nevada's gaming industry. The world is his oyster until a large investor in his unfinished casino wants out, leaving him without enough money to complete the job and open the doors. He appeals to the investor's wife (recurring guest Melanie Griffith) as well as his rival (Hugh Jackman, also in a recurring role). But then a murder in Holden's office just makes things worse.

Exec producer/writer Bob Lowry has emphasized that "Laughlin" is a drama with music, not a musical. That's an important distinction. Characters don't break into song; they sing duets with the original artists. The music -- and there isn't that much of it -- is used to advance the story, not enhance it. At the same time, the three selections in the premiere (Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas," Blondie's "One Way or Another" and the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil") create an upbeat mood and excitement.

In adapting the limited BBC series for potentially unlimited American TV, Lowry broadened Ripley's role. He's a faithful husband to wife Natalie (Madchen Amick), and a doting father to teens Jack (Carter Jenkins) and Cheyenne (Ellen Woglom). Combined with the murder mystery and the casino drama, the family angle might be stretching the character in too many directions. This might be taking the "something for everyone" philosophy too far, but, as with many premieres, it's hard to know what will or won't work in a month or more.

After the Thursday night premiere, "Laughlin" moves to 7 p.m. Sundays, a time period void of drama, save for the lightly watched and younger-skewing "Life Is Wild" on the CW. NBC's football and ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" likely will not be impacted, but there might be enough new viewers and holdovers from "60 Minutes" to keep this show in chips.

BBC Worldwide Prods. and Seed Prods. in association with CBS Paramount Network Television and Sony Pictures Television
Executive producers: Bob Lowry, Hugh Jackman, John Palermo, Paul Telegdy, Peter Bowker, Gabrielle Muccino
Producer: Lynn Raynor
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Teleplay: Bob Lowry
Director of photography: Steve Mason
Production designer: Mark Hutman
Editor: Hughes Winborne
Music: John Nordstrom
Set designer: Cynthia McCormac
Casting: Tim Payne
Ripley Holden: Lloyd Owen
Natalie Holden: Madchen Amick
Jack Holden: Carter Jenkins
Cheyenne Holden: Ellen Woglom
Nicky Fontana: Hugh Jackman
Bunny Baxter: Melanie Griffith
Jonesy: P.J. Byrne
Detective Peter Carlyle: Eric Winter
Marcus: DB Woodside
Buddy Baxter: Wings Hauser