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Tom Selleck bringing his mustache to ‘Las Vegas’

Some jobs just aren’t meant to last. King of Pop, for example. Or Republican senior senator from Idaho.

Then there’s the role of Montecito owner. “Las Vegas” goes through them the way Spinal Tap once churned through drummers.

“Here at the Montecito, our casino owners seem to have a habit of dying,” says Gary Scott Thompson, creator and executive producer of the drama that returns for its fifth season with a two-hour episode Friday (9 p.m., KVBC-TV, Channel 3). “One flew off a roof. One was eaten by a giant squid. The first one actually is in prison for embezzlement or something.”

Odds are the latest owner, A.J. Cooper, will stick around for a while. He’s a former Marine, a cattle rancher, and a billionaire oil man with more secrets than an O.J. Simpson golfing buddy. More importantly, he’s played by Tom Freakin’ Selleck.

The “Las Vegas” gig is only his second as a series regular since “Magnum, P.I.” ended in 1988. (The other, 10 years later, was his short-lived comedy “The Closer.”) But when you’re looking to replace James Caan — who left the series in March to go back to making movies — you have to think big.

After racking their brains, Thompson says, “My wife, my casting director and myself, all at the same time, went, ‘Tom Selleck.’ And then I went, ‘He’ll never do it. This is stupid. What are we even thinking of.’ “

A couple of days later, Selleck was in Thompson’s office for the first of 14 to 16 hours of meetings. At the time, Thompson didn’t even know what the new character was going to be. “It was really a feeling out process,” he says. “I mean, you’re going to spend your life with somebody for the next 10 to 12 months, 24-7. You want to see if it’s a fit.”

In the end, though, Thompson says it just came down to trust. “He really just said, ‘I’m gonna make a leap of faith here and jump in. Hope you guys know what you’re doing.’ ”

So far, they seem to. Every time Selleck appears onscreen, it feels special. The mere sight of him is still a little surreal. But then, his character’s motto is “Anything can happen.”

Cooper likes keeping people off balance, and the rest of the characters — including a new concierge played by Camille Guaty of last year’s “The Nine” — will spend the next few months trying to figure him out, Thompson says.

“I’m looking for people who think a little differently,” Cooper tells Danny (Josh Duhamel) after explaining that he wants to fill the giant hole that was blown into the Montecito in last season’s finale with a bowling alley.

The series is in a rebuilding phase as well. In addition to losing Caan, “Las Vegas” is entering its first season without Nikki Cox. “It really is almost a reinvention,” Thompson says of the show’s fresh start. “It’s sort of reinvigorated the show.”

And there’s a good chance a new batch of viewers will be waiting for it. Earlier this month, TNT began airing reruns of the series weekdays at 7 a.m. and noon, exposing it to a new audience. And Duhamel spent the summer in theaters in a little movie called “Transformers.”

But Selleck is still the show’s best chance at a ratings revival. The man’s a bona fide TV icon. And Thompson is wasting no time in reuniting him with “Magnum” co-stars Larry Manetti and Roger E. Mosley as Cooper’s billionaire buddies.

The friend played by Manetti — whose Rick ran the King Kamehameha Club — turned a single night spot into an empire, while the friend played by Mosley — whose T.C. flew the chopper with the bitchin’ orange-yellow-and-brown paint job — turned a single helicopter into an international aviation group.

“It was just fun to see the three of them together,” says Thompson, a longtime “Magnum, P.I.” fan.

I’m counting the days until the episode, scheduled for Oct. 26, even though it’s the kind of wink-and-a-nod stunt that often leads people to dismiss “Las Vegas.” “Boston Legal,” meanwhile, recently rode far campier story lines to an Emmy nomination for best drama and a best actor win for James Spader. Go figure.

Regardless, Thompson says that the “Las Vegas” brand of irreverence is here to stay. And that includes the likelihood of yet another new location for the Montecito, which has appeared in more places on the Strip that Wayne Newton.

Some shots put the hotel across from the Luxor, others across from Harrah’s, and it’s turned up in a few places in between.

“We’re just going to keep moving it around,” Thompson says with a laugh, “just to piss people off.”

Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Mondays. E-mail him at clawrence@reviewjournal.com.

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