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SHOOTING STARS: Spotlight shines on Mandalay Bay tonight for Miss Universe

The eyes of the universe — or the world, anyway — are on Las Vegas today as the 2010 Miss Universe pageant goes live on NBC from Mandalay Bay in prime time. (Prime time in Eastern and Central time zones, that is; with a 6 p.m. live start, the pageant will be tape-delayed for Pacific time zone viewers.)

Bret Michaels and “Today” anchor Natalie Morales host; John Legend and the Roots are scheduled to perform.

The telecast is expected to attract almost a billion viewers worldwide, and Las Vegas ranks as an ideal venue, according to Miss Universe Organization President Paula Shugart.

In part, she says, that’s because of the expertise and venues capable of staging those events. Mandalay Bay’s Events Center is “a perfect size for an event like this,” adds Shugart, who notes that when Las Vegas last hosted Miss Universe, in 1996, the competition took place at the then-Aladdin’s Theatre for the Performing Arts. (The theater’s still there, but the casino’s now known as Planet Hollywood.)

At Mandalay Bay, the 2010 pageant’s set is very modern, Shugart says. “The key component is video screens,” with “Las Vegas elements” featured on those screens.

Despite high-tech advances, however, interest in Miss Universe and other pageants reflects the universal popularity of diversions with a built-in rooting interest.

“It’s like the World Cup,” she suggests. “You can’t help but have a favorite country.”

In addition, “people can relate” to the 83 contestants — and the prospect of a life-changing victory.

“Most of these young women have never left their home country,” Shugart points out. “And one of them is not going home. She represents her country in relative obscurity, and then one will be on (David) Letterman two nights later — and Donald Trump is her boss.”

Soccer talk: Speaking of international competition, this year’s World Cup has come and gone, but soccer rolls on. And cameras are rolling at Lagasse’s Stadium at the Palazzo, where “Press Pass,” ESPNSoccernet’s daily soccer show, holds court this week.

Shown from Britain to Australia, South Africa to the Caribbean, the half-hour “Press Pass” reviews the soccer scene with host Adrian Healey, former star players Frank LeBoeuf and Shaka Hislop, and ESPN personality Tommy Smyth weighing in on the latest developments in what the rest of the world calls football.

The show is usually produced at ESPN’s Connecticut headquarters, but “Press Pass” previously visited Lagasse’s Stadium during this year’s World Cup.

This return trip reflects Las Vegas’ status as “a strong international sports hub,” explains ESPN vice president Bernard Stewart, general manager of Caribbean and maritime (cruise ship) media.

“Everyone knows Las Vegas,” Stewart says, and “with sport an underlying theme here,” it emerges as a logical location for the show.

And while Lagasse’s Stadium provides an atmospheric sports-book backdrop, the daily shows also will explore other local draws, from the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship to such extreme pursuits as indoor skydiving and the Stratosphere’s SkyJump.

In addition, “we hope to be able to use the celebrities of Las Vegas as a draw for viewers,” Stewart says.

Even after “Press Pass” completes its weeklong visit, ESPN hopes to do additional telecasts from Las Vegas, he notes; as always, keep up with Shooting Stars for additional details.

On cue: The sports connection continues with the feature “9-Ball," which tracks a pool player’s progress from “the hustle world” to the top of the American Poolplayers Association league.

The Riviera’s Top of the Riv provides the logical location for the Main Street Productions feature — because that’s where the APA Nationals will be under way this week. “They’re all set up with tables in the arena area and grandstand,” explains writer-director Tony Palma. “It’s an absolutely beautiful setting.”

Even more important, he adds, it’s “as authentic as possible.”

The authenticity extends to the casting, which includes such real-life pool professionals as Jeanette Lee, Allison Fisher — and Jennifer Barretta, who plays “9-Ball’s” central character, a pool expert determined to escape “the hustle scene she was forced into by a disreputable family member,” explains Palma. He anticipates a theatrical release for the movie in late fall or early winter.

Zombie nation: The feature “First Platoon” isn’t scheduled to begin its Southern Nevada shoot until Sept. 7, but pre-production’s humming along on the sci-fi comedy, reports producer Michela Angelini of Las Vegas-based First Earth Films.

About 150 background players will “go into zombie training soon,” she notes.

And the movie — about a ragtag squad of zombie-hunters patrolling the post-apocalyptic Southwest — has a new leading man in Scott Gibson (HBO’s “The Pacific”), who’ll be making his big-screen starring debut as squad leader Rock Brannigan, Angelini reports. Gibson replaces Alan Tudyk (“Firefly,” “3:10 to Yuma”) in the role, joining such veteran co-stars as Malcolm McDowell and Sid Haig.

Quick hits: A new fighting competition, “The Ultimate Women’s Challenge,” begins an extended shoot in Las Vegas; it’s scheduled to wrap in mid-October. And History’s breakout hit “Pawn Stars” continues production at downtown’s Gold & Silver Pawn.
 

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