By 1978 the television detective model had been nearly complete and possibly already a cliché. Dan Tanna might have well been the complete model as far as the formula goes. It was almost as if you could go down a checklist and, like Dr. Frankenstein creating a monster, you would check off the necessary elements. The scripts could then almost write themselves, and you let the show fly on autopilot for three seasons or so until someone decides to look behind the curtain.
So let’s go down that checklist, shall we?
Charismatic leading man? Robert Urich. Check.
Glitzy location? Vegas. Check.
Distinctive wheels? Vintage fire red Thunderbird. Check.
Hot scantily clad girls? Did I mention this was Vegas? Showgirls galore. Check.
Eccentric millionaire boss? (add well known star) Tony Curtis as Phillip Roth. Check.
Ex-con shady street informant? Binzer (Braverman). Check
Sexy secretary? Beatrice Travis played by model Phyllis Davis. Check.
Inside police contact? Sergeant Archer, later Greg Morris as Lt. Nelson. Check.
Eccentric fat friend? Diamond Jim played by Victor Buono. Check.
Ethnic buddy? Indian Chief Two-Leaf. Check.
Do something cool with the title like replace an S with a $? Check.
Now, you mix that checklist with a surly murder case each week where it seems at times that the detective is in over his head or about to get killed. Throw in some witty one-liners. Top it all off with some car chases and a few fisticuffs, and you have the 1970’s cop/detective series. Vega$ was the poster child for those kinds of shows. While it had all of the action and pieces of the formula going, it never really rose above the crop. Once the formula got old, the series was gone. This was an early series created by Michael Mann, who would go on to bring us such music video style shows like Miami Vice.
The episodes include a lot of the standard kind of stories with a Vegas kicker. The real extra here is the quality of guest stars the series attracted. In this set look for horror icon John Carradine, Scatman Crothers, Vic Tayback, Abe Vigoda, Morey Amsterdam, Jeopardy host Alec Trebek, Sid Caesar, Ross Martin, Anne Francis, Dr. Smith himself Jonathan Harris, Shady Grady Whitman Mayo, Kim Basinger, Isabel Sanford, Pernell Roberts, Robert Reed, Della Reese, Caesar Romero, Lynda Day George, Randolph Mantooth, Red Buttons, the best helmsman in Starfleet George Takei, Robert Loggia, boxer Muhammad Ali, Julie Harris, Piglet John Fiedler, Leslie Nielsen, 50’s sci-fi star Kenneth Tobey, … Holy Flashback, Batman, we even have Adam West. In 1978 this was a veritable who’s who in show biz. Except you only get the first half of the season. Go figure.
Each Vega$ episode is presented in its original television full frame format. We’re talking about a 40 year old television show, and your expectations should be adjusted accordingly. While colors are a bit soft, the picture itself is rather clean. The most notable standout is the rather generous level of grain, but this should never be considered a defect, but rather the result of the film’s stock and a legitimate part of the presentation. Print defects are minimal when you consider the age. Black levels are relatively weak but do not seriously take away from the experience.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track does what it needs to do, nothing less, nothing more. You get to hear the dialog and the energetic and jazzy theme perfectly, even if not in a more modern dynamic presentation. The show never sounded better and is not likely to at any time in the future.
Sadly, no extras this time.
Urich was the main draw here. Women found him sexy, and his tough guy charisma made him the envy of the 98 pound weakling guys. This was a detective show with a higher than average budget. It had top guest stars and elaborate locations. Perhaps it was the money that made this one hard to keep going after three years. It’s a bit glitzy, but picking up a copy sounds like a good idea. “Maybe this is something you oughta do.”