Saturday, April 21, 2007

Petcast LIVE from 9-11 am PT today

We've got a terrific lineup for the Petcast this morning, including a cat psychic and an animal-rights advocate who wants to refute some of the claims made by last week's controversial guest, Iditarod trainer Vern Halter.

Head to LVRocks.Com from 9-11 am to hear it and join the live chat room. We record four half-hour shows two Saturdays a month and then post new podcasts every Tuesday and Friday.

If you miss the live show, head to ThePetcast.Com for the latest shows.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Feng shui and the billionairess

One more troubling bit that popped up just now: Hong Kong billionaire Nina Wang gave her family the finger by handing her fortune to her feng shui master. The headline on the Reuters wire story posted by AOL that's up right now reads:

"Wang Leaves Estate to Fortune Teller"

A feng shui master is not a fortune teller. Of all the fanciful Asian holistic arts -- including Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture -- feng shui is perhaps the most tangible, provable and practical. It is a set of principles, primarily applied to design, that makes living and working spaces feel more comfortable, more calm, more productive, more lucky.

In Las Vegas, the MGM Mirage has a full-time feng shui master to advise on ways to make their properties most inviting to sought-after Asian high-rollers. And what's interesting about that is that what those who use feng shui principles end up with is, in fact, a more pleasing, pleasant environment for everyone. The most famous example was the entrance to the MGM Grand, which required people to walk in through the mouth of a mustard-colored lion (see left). Asians protested and they changed it, and now it is one of the nicest marquees in the city (see right).

What feng shui masters do NOT do is predict futures or advise people on what they should do. It appears that Reuters knows better, as their headline does not refer to the heir as a "fortune teller." But neither did writer John Pomfret bother to explain what feng shui is -- and is not.

Bad Readin's - and a couple of goods

Fact-checking these days isn't really that hard. You start with a search engine. Which is why the following two errors -- regarding search engines! -- are especially befuddling:

* In an L.A. Times review of ABC's all-girl gabfest "The View" that is online now but in print on Sunday, author Mary McNamara writes: "If you employ one of (Rosie) O'Donnell's favorite research tools and Google "The View," you will, on most days, come up with a list of "recent news" entries long before you hit the show's website." I tried it. Didn't happen. Will keep trying, but it seems like an ill-conceived cheap shot aimed at Rosie's reference to Donald Trump's alleged bankruptcies several months ago and where she claimed to find the information. As if Mary McNamara herself doesn't also, as a journalist every single day, use Google to start her research. (Another L.A. Times piece posted today, profiling "View" host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, is terrific and well worth a read.)

*In yesterday's Doonesbury -- which I've taken to reading online because the Review-Journal buries it somewhere behind the Classifieds for no apparent reason -- Garry Trudeau is mocking the shifting political positions of former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney. In the third frame, Mike Doonesbury asks Mark Slackmeyer, "Mark, what happens when you do a search on 'flip-flop' and 'Mitt Romney?' " And Mark replies: "You get 5,435,000 hits, Mike." You try it. I just did. I got 106,000. Probably a lot of repeat results in there, too.

Elsewhere in the media this morning, the Review-Journal ran a completely ridiculous story about a complaint hotline at McCarran Airport that led callers to the wrong place. This was the TOP local story in the newspaper's estimation, based on where it placed it. Did the errant information lead callers to a Chinese take-out? Maybe a little old lady who is getting sick of having her "Wheel of Fortune" interrupted? Perhaps, this being Vegas, a phone-sex line? No! Any of those things would've been fun, interesting, newsy. In this case, it sent callers to a recently disconnected FAA number and the cell phone of a Las Vegas city public information officer. So? The airport spokesman, a former R-J scribe himself who must be appalled now to be on the other end of this stuff, says it was an honest mistake. But what kind of a story does that make?

I know how these stories get done -- a reporter stumbles over the glitch and calls around for comments or somebody in the public calls the reporter. Doesn't make it a real story, even if you can get the mayor to opine on it in a way that suits your narrative which, in this case, is that the airport hates people.

This journalistic tactic only works if there's a legitimate problem. Like this story I did for the R-J in 1997 when I was alerted by a parent to the fact that the Clark County School District's own website on how to enroll kids in kindergarden was riddled with appalling spelling errors from top to bottom. I opened the piece with my favorite lead ever: "To enroll you're childeren in kunderfarden, it is improtant and nessary to bring a coppy of a utility bull, even in outlaying areas." All of those mistakes were on the site. Now that is irony and news.

Today's Las Vegas Sun, meanwhile, had two excellent pieces, both of which I may end up using for stories of my own. One, by my "Petcast" co-host Emily Richmond, looked into early signs that the school district, which is chronically understaffed even as it opens new schools every year to keep up with population growth, has seen a plummet in the number of teacher applications to date, portending an even greater crisis this year than ever before. See? A little more important than a screwy phone line, no?

And Mike Trask writes about this guy in Henderson, Nev., who is digitizing a huge collection of vintage TV shows and tossing them up on the Internet at The site, by the way, is brilliant and free!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

MGM To Take Over The WORLD

Howard Stutz had a terrific scoop in the Review-Journal today that MGM Mirage has bought a bunch of land at Sahara and the Strip that, along with its Circus Circus property, gives it 100 contiguous acres. The implications are enormous -- that's 24 more acres than they have at CityCenter -- and will be hashed out by many including me in coming years. Sadly, though, MGM Mirage president Jim Murren says the plan does NOT include blowing up the monstrosity that is Circus Circus. He did give Stutz this peculiar comment:

"We're going to put some money into it and enhance and expand it over time. Circus Circus will be a gateway to our new development, similar to what Monte Carlo is to Project CityCenter."

This is an odd statement. Did anyone until Murren ever suggest that Monte Carlo, one of the most forgotten casino-resorts in the MGM family, was a gateway to CityCenter? Just look at how is sits off to the side in this picture of the CityCenter model. It's so sad and lonely, neglected as it has been its entire existence. Gateway? More like bastard step-child.

Prediction: When they get down to the guts of whatever plan they have for all that property, Circus Circus will be condemned to its fitting erasure from this earth. They're certainly not going to be able to attract architects
like Liebskind and Jahn to offer up stunning designs for buildings to stand alongside a demented clown holding a bitten lollipop.

Miles and I kicked that around and more on tonight's episode of The Strip. We also had a camera crew from working on a piece on us to post sometime next week! Take a listen or right-click here to save the show to your computer to hear later.

Frank Fahrenkopf, Craig Ferguson on The Strip Tonight

Join us live at 7 pm at LVROCKS.Com for the chat and live show.

It'll be a busy night on "The Strip" -- Comic Craig Ferguson and American Gaming Assn executive director Frank Fahrenkopf. Plus, a crew from RawVegas.TV will be in the house to interview us while we're playing the pre-recorded Fahrenkopf interview.

Had a terrific interview today with Brandon Flowers of The Killers which will be used on a future show as well as for a Vegas mag story I'm writing. And I've locked in PAUL ANKA for next week's ep of "The Strip."

See you tonight!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Stomp: The Las Vegas Spectacular?

No matter what else I have to say about Planet Hollywood's "Stomp Out Loud," I have to give it props for having the coolest theater lobby in Vegas. Seriously. Just look at this stuff -- those letters are recycled from old Vegas marquees, that fountain made of a huge roulette wheel. Brilliant. And, by the way, totally free to look around at!

Now, on to the commentary...

By now we're all familiar with this story: A show takes New York or London or some place else by storm and then eventually finds itself a home in Las Vegas. And usually, as long as it's not a traditional Broadway musical, it usually does turn out successfully. Well, it worked for Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man Group and Mamma Mia. Not so well for some others that need not be named.

So here comes another, Stomp. Or, as they redubbed it, Stomp Out Loud. A cast of multiethnic performers, many of them physically unlikely to have become stage actors, make percussion music with a variety of household items. Brooms, water bottles, boxes, garbage cans.

It was impossible not compare Stomp to the Blue Man Group, a show I adore and, for some reason, can watch again and again without boredom. I enjoyed Stomp, just a little less and with no desire to return. And that's strange because intellectually I knew that what I saw in Stomp was more challenging. In BMG, they're backed up by a full band. They have lengthy sections of humor that have nothing to do with music. And they use those blue masks as a means of separating themselves from us normal humans in the audience.

In Stomp, all of the sound comes from a cast of real, uncostumed people on stage, each of whom gets their own character to act out without ever uttering a word. And, most of all, the brilliance of Stomp isn't actually the notion of making the music but the astounding feat of coordinating all of those people -- sometimes 15 at one time -- to make their peculiar noises in a way that is visually appealing and makes sense aurally. As I said, BMG has only three guys to coordinate.

Stomp Out Loud was great fun -- for the first hour. And then, spoiled audience member that I am, I got used to watching incredibly difficult feats and thought, 'What else ya got?'

And here's where it gets a little tricky. My companion for the night, Trevor, had seen Stomp twice before elsewhere. And he tells me this version was more than 60 percent the same as what he'd seen before. And that's a problem for Las Vegas. Just ask the folks at "Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular," who wisely realized they'd need to do something truly sensational to make it Vegas-worthy, so they built a $40 million theater and reinvented the chandelier-crash as a thrill ride of sorts.

Stomp had some new things -- live showers on the stage that provide for an intriguing and sexy sequence with some new sounds, a mammoth roulette wheel on the back wall that twirled and lit up -- but is it new enough to make people want to shell out $50 to $110 here?

Maybe. I'll let that question just hang out there. I was wrong four years ago about Mamma Mia, which I didn't think had a chance. And I thought "Avenue Q" would catch on. So all I'll say is that if you've never seen it before, this "Stomp" is worthy. And did I mention that the lobby is really amazing?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Planet Aladdin's Odd Preview

Pete Sampras looked like hell. Sugar Ray Leonard doesn't go by "Sugar" anymore. Pepsi commercials were shown. Carmen Electra was somewhere on the Planet Mars, not Planet Hollywood.

And that wasn't the half of it. In one of the most truly odd press events I've ever attended, a man who looks like a cross between Dudley Moore and that short guy from L.A. Law stood on a stage in a mammoth theater once where Elvis was adored and Linda Ronstadt was booed (I was there!) and read from a script about all of the new restaurants, bars and amenities his "new" Vegas resort is going to have. (His image was also projected on two large, somewhat creepy oval screens floating in ginormous metal hands such as you see here.)

This was the much-hyped "preview" of the new Planet Hollywood, although the most significant thing to occur today is that we in the media are heretofore permitted to refer to it simply as Planet Hollywood and not the Aladdin or, even more awkwardly, the Aladdin/Planet Hollywood. Most of us are still enjoying referring to it as Planet Ho, as the marquee read for a day last week.

So they held a press conference today where nobody got to ask any questions -- not even Robin Leach! Instead, we were treated to an overly produced speech by Planet Hollywood CEO Robert Earl, who is hoping his Vegas property returns him to prominence after he admittedly overbuilt the Planet Hollywood brand into bankruptcy earlier this decade. He talked about things that Vegas CEOs don't normally discuss -- can you imagine Steve Wynn getting all hot about his deal to, say, exclusively serve Pepsi? (Apparently the soft-drink maker is putting promotional info about the hotel-casino on 12 million cans this summer. Oh, and a Coke cup was used in "Stomp Out Loud," by the way.)

There is certainly a lot of interesting stuff happening here, most notably a restaurant lineup that will include Strip House (which in Las Vegas joins Social House and StripSteak to add new confusion), Alfredos (by the folks who invented Fettucini Alfredo) and Earl of Sandwich (by an 8th-generation member of the guy who thought to put meat between bread).

Late in the proceedings, Earl announced he's having three "sports ambassadors" to the property, though what their jobs are is anyone's guess, and out pops Pete Sampras, Roger Clemens and (not-Sugar) Ray Leonard. Clemens looks bigger than I ever imagined him to be but oddly like Nick Lachey on steroids, Leonard looked about right and Sampras looked...barely ambulatory. His thinning hair was in disarray and he gripped the back of his hips the way Grandpa Joe Simpson would. The three of them actually bumped into one another as they were about to leave and Earl bellowed at them to stay where they were on stage!

Next we got a preview of the Faster Than Magic show by German illusionist Hans Klok and co-starring Carmen Electra. She did not participate in the preview, which had to do with making a woman in a box disappear and reconstituting an apparently torn up newspaper. You know, original stuff. I noted to a friend next to me that the flowing-blond German magician seemed like the second coming of Siegfried and some ass sitting ahead of me turned to crack: "Oh, I'm sure Siegfried's come twice many times." Ew.

The finale was Bruce Willis, a partner in the Planet Hollywood, appearing to announce the Grand Opening date of Sept. 28-29 and promising the best party Vegas has ever seen. Which is doubtful since that would have to be the premiere of "Zumanity," when they carpeted the top floor of the New York-New York parking lot and had a human mobile dangle from a mammoth crane for entertainment.

The hotel, by the way, looks sensational, vastly improved from the monstrosity that was Aladdin Deux. Here are shots of the lobby, an overview of the casino and a shot of a room, each of which is themed with a different movie's memorabilia. This one is the Pulp Fiction room, though you can't really see that from this.

Waiting, Waiting

Got up at an ungodly (to me!) hour of 7 a.m. today because I expected the architect of the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas to call at 8 a.m. from Asia for an interview, but he seems to have forgotten. May have to reschedule that for tomorrow. I have to interview all five lead CityCenter architects by week's end; I may put them out as special editions of "The Strip" if they're interesting. Am scheduled later today to the architect for the CityCenter Hotel-Resort; that should definitely be a good one since it's the central feature of the $7 billion complex. Then I'm off to the unveiling of Planet Hollywood and premiere of Stomp Out Loud.

My morning's not a total loss, though, since at 8:45 a.m., "Late, Late Show" comic Craig Ferguson is supposed to call for a taped chat for this week's "The Strip," which I do hope actually happens. I've enjoyed the clips that they put on YouTube and am particularly keen to quiz him about this incident in May 3, 2005 during the Michael Jackson molestation trial when he cut off Bill Maher. Here's the YouTube clip:

Ouch. We do have another guest for this week's "The Strip," American Gaming Association executive director Frank Fahrenkopf. That'll be a more serious chat.

One thing about these early morning interviews that I've learned -- and now that I intend to broadcast some of them on the podcast it's especially important -- is that I need to flex my vocal chords before I take a call. Once years ago, I was working on a USA Today story and Sen. John McCain was to call at 7 a.m. our time, 10 a.m. in D.C. I had been awake for an hour but hadn't uttered a word. So when Sen. McCain called and my voice was terribly groggy, he asked rather solicitously, "Oh, did I wake you?" Embarrassing.

So I've been singing "You Can Call Me Al" for the past 10 minutes. Anyone have other tips?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Christiane, CNN and Calamity

It was strangely comforting, on a day of such national tragedy, to accidentally find myself watching CNN's Christiane Amanpour collect a high honor and admonish the TV news industry to take itself more seriously. Too bad nobody at CNN evidently listens to her. But I'll get to that in a moment.

As the bodies were being counted on the bloodsoaked campus of Virginia Tech, Amanpour, probably the best television journalist of our age, was in Las Vegas to receive the Paul White Award for lifetime achievement at the Radio and TV News Directors Association (RTNDA) convention. The RTNDA is the journalism component of the mammoth National Association of Broadcasters convention that is occupying the entire 3 million square foot Las Vegas Convention Center as well as parts of the neighboring Las Vegas Hilton. I had been at NAB to do some interviews for a forthcoming New York Times piece that has nothing at all to do with Las Vegas, and I was about to leave when I saw the notice about Amanpour's honor, which had gone in the past to Edward R. Morrow, Walter Cronkite and others. So I stayed.

Amanpour gets most of her airtime on CNN International, where I first fell in love with her and her British brogue and severe bangs while living in Beijing and writing for USA Today in 2001. She's on often enough on CNN Domestic and her "In The Footsteps Of Bin Laden" is her latest brilliant output, but she's not on even enough for her to be a household name in America and that's a shame.

Amanpour railed tonight against the sort of journalism that caters to the lowest common denominator, insisting that the public hungers for higher-brow fare and exhorting her colleagues to do better. I don't believe that; I think our sated, overly secure and frivilous culture gets exactly what it "hungers" for, but it was nonetheless especially delightful to hear her toss off clever chestnuts like "Do we really want our generation ot be defined by the travails of the likes of Anna Nicole Smith?" or "Is our great debate going to be about Britney Spears' pate?"

What was strange was that at the very same time Amanpour was beating this drum, her colleagues were on the air churning out some of the most embarrassing and shallow coverage on the Virginia Tech campus. I caught about an hour shortly after the speech and what I found was Jon King trying to keep the wall-to-wall coverage going by standing on a deserted, dark campus grabbing random people to ask that idiotic "how's this feel?" question. He also announced the name of one dead student -- even as he admitted the police weren't disclosing it. Now, what the hell is that about? If the cops aren't saying, could it be the family hasn't been notified yet? Why would CNN need to give out a dead man's name -- just because they had it? Is the public that desperate for names of people they've never met? Would you as a viewer think, 'Ooh, they're the best! They gave out a dead guy's name! I better stick with them so I can find out the other dead people's names?"

CNN's coverage of this horror was Exhibit A of the sort of journalism Amanpour was rightly attacking. There was this extended piece where they interviewed some creepy criminologist named James Alan Fox (that's him to the left) with bad hair and crooked glasses who actually tried to imagine why the gunman killed 32 people today. He has no clue, we don't even know the killer's name, and CNN is happily pretending they have an "expert" who can divine the motive for this disaster.

Oh, and one more thing. Amanpour spoke to a crowd of mostly news directors of local TV stations. They weren't the ones who overplayed Anna Nicole. Sure, they may get into the crime and weather to excess, but Christiane need only turn to her own bosses if she wants to take on the dumbing down of TV journalism.

I stand corrected or bu hao

A few weeks ago in this space, I wondered why Las Vegas casinos don't have foreign-language mirror sites. I had noticed shortly thereafter that the Bellagio does, in fact, have Chinese, Japanese and Spanish mirror sites. See the screenshot to your right.

Then it was pointed out to me in an email from Jenn Michaels,
vice president of corporate relations for MGM Mirage, that two other MGM Mirage properties also have Spanish language sites -- Circus Circus and Treasure Island. I honestly didn't even look at those sites because they're not hotels I would associate with international travel and at least with the TI, you have to really look carefully to find the link. But Michaels also noted that by the end of the year, MGM Grand and Luxor also will have Spanish-language mirror sites. Wroth she: "This is an evolving area for us. Historically, international business has represented a small percentage of business to Las Vegas and to our properties. That number is certainly growing and as it does we respond."

I asked her what's taken so long given all the marketing efforts in Asia, and this was her answer:
"To be honest, it’s just a matter of us catching up to the need. We’ve gone, in 7 years, from being a company with 2 properties to one with 22 properties, and we’re trying to manage that process. We know we have a lot of work to do on this front, and we look forward to getting it all done as we move forward."

Meanwhile, I also picked on the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for failing in this regard. It is true that LVCVA.Com does not have any foreign-language mirror sites, but VisitLasVegas.Com, which I discovered the other day when Gregory sent me checking out the Vegas Visionary, does have links for Spanish and Chinese.

Still, where's Harrah's, Wynn and especially the Venetian on all of this?

And on a more arcane point (to Western readers), one of my Chinese friends reminded me that the
title of the first post on this matter was incorrect. "Bu Yao" means "don't want." I meant to say "don't have" which would've been "mei you." Dui buqi.