SHOOTING STARS: NBC talent, beauty competitions return to Las Vegas

Las Vegas is the perfect place for “America’s Got Talent” judges to cut the field of contenders in half.

And Las Vegas is the perfect place for Miss USA judges to crown 2010’s title-holder.

Whichever competition you choose, however, there’s no contest when it comes to favorite locations.

“We love it in Las Vegas,” says Phil Gurin, executive producer of Sunday’s Miss USA pageant. “It’s a great destination for everyone” from the contestants and their families to the show’s production crew.

After all, “we need great content and Vegas gives us great content,” according to Gurin. (More about that “great content” shortly.)
At “America’s Got Talent,” the show’s fourth annual “Vegas Week,” headquartered at the Palms, will find the show’s judges putting more than 100 hopefuls through their paces for two episodes airing in early July.

Following this second round, only 48 will make the cut to continue competing, explains executive producer Jason Raff.

New judge Howie Mandel — joining returnees Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan — will watch “act after act,” Raff says. “It’s the most difficult week for the judges.”

And Mandel’s experience as a showroom headliner adds a new perspective to the judging process.

He’s the only performer on the panel who has headlined in Las Vegas, Raff points out. “He definitely knows what it takes.” As a result, “it’s definitely changed the dynamic” of the judges’ panel.

For the contestants, however, Las Vegas serves as a shining symbol of their showbiz aspirations.

“A lot of our performers” have had “a kind of a dream about having that headline show in Vegas,” he notes. (Among those whose dream has come true: Mirage headliner Terry Fator, who won the show’s second season.)

In addition to performing for the judges — for all of 90 seconds — however, the contestants “like to take in the ambience” of Las Vegas, Raff says. After all, some of them haven’t been on an airplane before, let alone Las Vegas, so “taking ’em down the Strip — it’s fun for me to see them, seeing it for the first time.”

Crowning achievement: Although the primary purpose of the Miss USA pageant is to showcase the 51 contenders for the title, “we take pride in showcasing Las Vegas as well,” says executive producer Gurin.

So, in addition to Sunday’s competition at Planet Hollywood — hosted by “Today’s” Natalie Morales and “Celebrity Apprentice’s” Curtis Stone — the 4 p.m. telecast (airing live on NBC to the East and Midwest, on tape-delay at 7 p.m. here) will “showcase Las Vegas and a lot of the properties,” he says. “We get to show it off, at the beginning of the show and throughout the show.”

Before settling in Las Vegas three years ago, Miss USA rotated among various cities. But Las Vegas “seems such a natural fit,” Gurin says, there’s no need to switch locations.

That doesn’t mean there’s no need to tweak the telecast from year to year, however.

“We always try to make it a little fresh,” he says, citing the presence of backstage commentators Joan and Melissa Rivers as one new addition.

“Joan is the godmother of red-carpet coverage,” Gurin explains, “and this is just a natural extension for her.” And while “it’s no secret that they’re opinionated and funny,” their comments will only be heard by the TV audience, not the Planet Hollywood audience, he says. “You gotta watch to see what they’re going to say.”

Poker faces: There’s no such thing as too many poker shows.

At least that’s what Fox network affiliates hope. They’ll be the broadcast home for “The Big Game,”’s new high-stakes Texas hold ’em competition, which is expected to conclude a six-day shoot today at the South Point.

The weeknight show (airing in late-night or early morning time slots) debuts June 14.

Each hourlong episode features top poker pros and amateur players, along with a “Loose Cannon” — an online qualifier from Among the show’s all-star lineup: Daniel Negreanu, Vanessa Rousso, Jason Mercier, Barry Greenstein, Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer.

As for the Las Vegas location, ”for a game this big, there is only one city in the world that made sense,” according to Mark Mayer, the show’s executive producer. “There was no second choice. Las Vegas represents everything this show is about: class, style and premier entertainment.”

Reality bites: The History Channel’s stateside version of the BBC’s “Top Gear” zooms into town for several days of location work, at locations ranging from Bellagio to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s Strip dragstrip — the latter for a brief segment on the Junior Dragster series.

Elsewhere on the reality front, truTV’s “All Worked Up,” which focuses on local tow-truck drivers, returned to town last week. And speaking of truTV, “Rehab: Party at the Hard Rock Pool,” A&E’s “Criss Angel Mindfreak,” History’s “Pawn Stars” and Holly Madison’s E! series “Holly’s World” all continue production this week.

Gridiron girl: NFL Films hit the field over the weekend for a feature on Nikki Johnson, a 19-year-old UNLV student who plays for the Vegas Showgirlz, the local women’s tackle football team.

In addition to UNLV, locations ranged from Las Vegas’ Ed Fountain park, where the team practices, to Johnson’s physical therapy center to Saturday’s game at Faith Lutheran Junior/Senior High School.

The “NFL Films Presents” feature will air during football season on ESPN2 and the NFL Network, according to NFL Films’ Pamela Alexo.

Quick hits: Japan’s “Necchu Stadium” plans a six-day visit to shoot various Las Vegas backgrounds on the Strip and downtown for the show, which will gather 30 Glitter City enthusiasts in a Tokyo studio to discuss their favorite Vegas attractions.

And for locals, the beauty of the surrounding desert ranks high among favorite Vegas attractions — which explains why it’s the focus of an upcoming “Don’t Trash Nevada” public service announcement shooting Tuesday between Red Rock Canyon and the Red Springs picnic area.


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