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Tuned In: 'The Strip' gambles on formula in flashy setting

Tuesday, October 12, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

As UPN shows go, "The Strip" could be a lot worse. But that's not saying much.

Although not as mindlessly violent as the original presentation sent to critics, the premiere airing tonight at 9 on Pittsburgh's WNPA, Channel 19, has its share of over-the-top gunfire and explosions (a double-wide trailer blows up real good in the Nevada desert).

Sean Patrick Flanery, who had a promising start to his career as the lead in ABC's "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" and the movie "Powder," stars in "The Strip" as Elvis Ford, a Las Vegas detective.

With a name like Elvis, you know he's the one who takes nothing seriously (except his junk food habit). His partner, Jesse Weir (Guy Torry), is more of a straight arrow, with a wife (Stacey Dash from "Clueless") to answer to at the end of the day.

The pair quit their jobs with the police force after a dust-up with their lieutenant. But Elvis isn't worried about their future job prospects.

"This is Vegas, something always comes up," he says with typically macho I-don't-have-a-care-in-the-world swagger.

They go to work for casino magnate Cameron Greene (Joe Viterelli), who seemingly runs Caesar's Palace, where much of "The Strip" is filmed.

Greene wants Elvis and Jesse to work as hotel security consultants, keeping his customers safe and comfortable. Their first case involves a high-roller whose wife has been kidnapped.

If nothing else, it's nice to see a series shot on a flashy location. Look it's the Flamingo! There's Bellagio! Howdy, Westward Ho!

Executive producer Joel Silver ("Lethal Weapon," "Die Hard") said the idea for a Las Vegas-set series came about when filming a chase scene near Vegas for "Lethal Weapon 4."

In a phone interview with TV critics last week, Silver said Flanery's character is a composite "of all the buddy-cop stuff we've done before. You can't do that much new.

"There's nothing about this that's serious or, I don't want to say thought-provoking. ... It's like a great '70s television show," Silver said. His goal is to offer a fresh spin on older shows he loved "when I was a little less sophisticated maybe."

See, you've been forewarned by the executive producer: "The Strip" doesn't offer much that's new, but there's plenty of action and some humorous buddy comedy.

An early scene puts Elvis and Jesse in a convertible driving down the Strip talking pop culture trivia like they're Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in "Pulp Fiction." Instead of discussing McDonald's menu items, they pontificate on the six degrees of William Shatner.

It would be a fun conversation if Flanery didn't seem like he's trying way too hard to portray nonchalance.

Recurring characters have been added since the original pilot, including "X-Files"-inspired morgue geeks (a take-off on The Lone Gunmen) and Cleo, a transvestite strip club madame, who offers up the show's crudest line of dialogue. Hoots will be heard coming from fraternity houses across the land, which is pretty representative of UPN's new image.

With "WWF Smackdown!" and "Shasta McNasty" leading the way, UPN has seen its ratings rise by sinking to new lows. The crew of "Star Trek: Voyager" are no doubt relieved to be trapped in a galaxy far, far away.

UP A "CREEK": The WB has gone over the line.

Last week's episode of "Dawson's Creek," particularly a scene in which Jen (Michelle Williams) described the process of eating a sundae as a euphemism for oral sex, was totally inappropriate for a show that targets teens and pre-teens as its primary audience. The scene was gratuitous and borderline pornographic, and that's being charitable.

It's bad enough "Dawson's Creek" airs at 8 p.m., but the parental advisory doesn't absolve the network of responsibility for the show's content.

I've been a supporter of "Dawson's Creek" from the beginning. I understand that sexuality is part of teen life. But dialogue that sounds like it came out of "Porky's" is just plain wrong for a show aimed at kids.

GUEST STAR: Pittsburgh native Julie Benz, last seen in the failed CBS sitcom "Payne," pops up in The WB's "Roswell" tomorrow at 9 p.m.

Benz will have a recurring role as a substitute teacher who may or may not be an alien hunter.

"MILLENNIUM" MADNESS: While Chris Carter plans to wrap up loose ends from his canceled series "Millennium" on an upcoming "X-Files," you have to wonder exactly how wrapped up the story will be.

Carter said Lance Henriksen will appear as Frank Black, but Klea Scott, who played Black's partner Emma Hollis in the show's third and final season, couldn't fit "The X-Files" episode into her schedule.

CLARIFICATION: In last-minute editing of Sunday's TV Week cover story, dates for the second Pittsburgh episodes of TLC's "Paramedics" (Dec. 27) and "Trauma: Life in the E.R." (Dec. 28) were added. But another sentence was not removed, making it sound as if there will be three Pittsburgh-set episodes. There are only two for each series.

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