Entertainment

[The Strip Sense]

Jerry-rigged Vegas

A Springer residency here could be a huge boost

It’s not being billed as such, but there’s a concert this weekend that could very well redefine Vegas entertainment.

Okay, that’s overstating it a smidge. But the big show on Friday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena featuring newly crowned America’s Got Talent winner Neal Boyd and five of the show’s also-rans has the potential to spawn not one but two show-biz innovations that could finally move the Strip past its predictable diet of magicians, Cirque, past-their-prime vocalists and Broadway.

First, and most obviously, the success of the MGM event could reinvigorate the moribund variety-show genre in a sensational way. Thus far, America’s Got Talent has not gone the American Idol and Dancing With the Stars route with national tours featuring its top talents, and that may very well be because the correct approach to bounce off the NBC talent show’s phenomenal ratings would be to get a Vegas showroom and stage an AGT-branded show of rotating favorite acts.

This isn’t mere speculation; no less than AGT emcee Jerry Springer is working on it.

“I would love to do that, I have started some talks with them to do that,” said the 64-year-old trash-TV talk-show host, who will be here to emcee the MGM gig. “We have enough acts now in our stable that you wouldn’t have to do the same acts every night; you could work out schedules. Doing America’s Got Talent in Vegas is a natural because that is the place of variety.”

It does make perfect sense. Already, the show has spawned two major Strip headliners, first-season semi-finalist magician Nathan Burton at the Flamingo and, of course, second-season winner Terry Fator, who landed a $100 million, five-year deal at the Mirage starting next year.

That’s impressive, and Vegas talent scouts have now begun to watch the show carefully as, essentially, the American Idol of Las Vegas. But while Fator and Burton show that AGT can spawn fresh headliners already familiar with the TV-addicted heartland Americans who vacation here, a lot of the other AGT acts that make their marks aren’t substantial enough in their own right to carry an hour or 90 minutes of Strip stage time.

Take the engaging duo Nuttin But Strings, a pair of black brothers (no, really, they’re siblings) from Queens, New York, who do an enthralling rock-violin act. Or septuagenarian Paul Salos, who warmed hearts with his dead-on Sinatra impersonation. Or the clogging ensemble All That and the professional “snappist” Bobby Badfingers, both of Season 1.

Once they’ve made their marks on this TV show, what else can they possibly do? Put them together, though, and mix it up from night to night, and suddenly a Vegas showroom, like, say, the one long-vacant at Paris since the departure of The Producers, becomes a destination promoted week after week by a top-rated network TV show.

But who, oh who, should host such a production?

“I’ve always wanted to go to Vegas,” Springer volunteered. “That would be pure fun. I’d be there in a heartbeat.”

Which brings us to the second possible result of a successful AGT experiment at the MGM Grand this weekend. Ten months ago in this space, I wondered aloud why no major TV talk shows have decided to film here. They give away seats at tapings in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles that they could sell for at least $30 a butt at a Vegas hotel.

If AGT really created a branded variety show in Vegas, and if Springer wanted to be a significant part of that, it stands to reason my vision could come true: Springer could up and move the production of his daily talker here as well. He certainly wouldn’t have any difficulty finding cheating, cross-dressing, polygamist whores here. Of course, such a program or its image would never be welcomed at an upscale property, but think of the boost it could give to the Riviera, the Sahara or some dump Downtown.

Springer didn’t shoot down the idea. He merely wondered about the logistics and suggested that “those decisions are made way above me” because the program is owned by General Electric, owners of NBC.

Yet it’s not like the powers that be at GE could just replace the man whose name is now a synonym for the debasement of American culture in order to keep it in Chicago. While Springer likes to talk about himself as hired help—by insisting he has no involvement in the content of his show, he has inoculated himself from culpability in its potential deleterious effects on society—it is still the plain truth that if Springer came to Vegas for AGT, the TV show would follow.

“It’s an interesting idea,” Springer said cautiously. “It’s way beyond my pay scale.”

Uh, sure. If you say so. But thanks to AGT, if Jerry Springer wants to, he can become a major Vegas headliner.

Should that happen, you all have my most sincere apologies for prodding him about it. Also, I demand a cut of the profits.

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