Fox adding country flavor to Vegas New Year's celebration

Forget the pointy party hats.

When Fox shows up for the network's annual live-from-Vegas New Year's Eve TV bash this week, Stetsons will be the headgear of choice.

And that makes perfect sense for Saturday night's howdy-2012 hoedown, "American Country New Year's Eve Live."

Hoping to extend the ratings momentum that began earlier this month with Fox's second annual "American Country Awards," the network aims to corral "the same country-loving" viewers with a special that boasts performers Rodney Atkins, Joe Nichols and "American Idol" finalist Laura Alaina, reports executive producer Bob Bain.

Rodney Carrington hosts the festivities, which go live from Mandalay Bay Beach at 8 p.m. (Home viewers get the tape-delayed version at 11 p.m. on KVVU-TV, Channel 5.)

Adding even more Vegas atmosphere: co-hosts, and "Pawn Stars" regulars, Rick Harrison and Austin "Chumlee" Russell.

"They're Vegas icons," according to Bain, "but they're also big reality stars." And because "they bring a really loyal audience," producers hope "there might be some crossover."

Fox has made a habit of spending New Year's Eve in Las Vegas -- Bain estimates the network has spent "probably 10 out of the last 12 years" here, providing "a recurring alternative to Times Square." (For you traditionalists, the telecast will include a midnight-countdown cutaway to New York for the inevitable ball drop.)

Despite the annual Vegas visit, however, producers "didn't decide to do country until Dec. 7," Bain reports. Which didn't leave them much time to give the usual pop and hip-hop theme a country-fried makeover, he concedes.

"Had I known we were doing this" when the ACAs were under way, "I would have gotten New Year's resolutions" from the performers in town for that show, Bain says. "But it wasn't on our radar" at the time.

Little wonder, then, that "we've been racing around to try to retool," he adds. "We're excited about the opportunity to try something different," enabling the show to stand apart from rival New Year's Eve specials that have worked the pop-rock-hip-hop territory for years.

"If we're going to make a mark," Bain comments, "we want to do something different. I think we have nothing to lose."

In part, that's because country music "has crossed over into the mainstream," he contends. "That twang has disappeared from a lot of country and made it much broader in appeal."

And music, regardless of genre, remains the essential ingredient when it comes to staging a New Year's Eve TV show, Bain adds.

"For the most part, people are partying" while they watch, he says. "So it's kind of in the background," with music setting the festive tone.

Bain just hopes the weather proves as hot as the music.

Last year, he recalls, "it was 24 degrees when we started" the show -- so "anything in the 40s, to me, is a gift."

Quick takes: The arrival of Fox's New Year's Eve special coincides with the departure of another Fox staple: "American Idol," which wrapped production on 11th-season episodes on the Strip -- and in a Strip showroom -- for its mid-January return.

The National Geographic Channel's "Hard Time," meanwhile, continues production into the new year at the Clark County Detention Center.

For the show's new season, "We wanted to take a step back in the process to follow the lives of officers and inmates in the pre-trial world of jail," according to producer Greg Henry.

"Las Vegas is an iconic city with one of busiest jails in the country," he notes, "which makes it a perfect location for this long-term, deeply contextual series."

Carol Cling's Shooting Stars column appears Mondays. Contact her at (702) 383-0272 or ccling@reviewjournal. com.