Monday, September 14, 2009

CSI's Vegas Attraction Off To Slow Start

OK, so here's something I want to see succeed. I really do. I just don't know if it will. And the data I've been shown is telling me that the MGM and others have a climb ahead of them.

The hit "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" is the most successful TV show ever set in Las Vegas. It remains atop the ratings -- a phenomenal 19 million American viewers watched an average episode last year in its ninth season, a rather modest erosion from the years of 23-26 million per episode earlier in the decade. And this doesn't even account for international viewership or additional viewers who watch the Miami or New York editions.

So this is as big and durable a brand as the fragmented TV landscape has these days. And now MGM Grand is home to a $5 million, 12,000-square-foot subterranean interactive attraction in which visitors pay $30 to take notes on one of three crime scenes and then pop into a series of forensic-lab cubicles where they compare fingerprints, test substances, read the victim's old text messages and so forth. In the end, visitors input their findings into a computer and Gil Grissom, the former CSI supervisor played by departed star William Peterson, and he tells you if you're right and what probably happened to the victim.

So it's got the ingredients that you would think CSI fans would dig. But is it too brainy, too light on pizzazz for Vegas entertainment?

I keep being told this attraction was a huge draw when it toured around the nation, and certainly Vegas is the logical permanent space for it given the CSI setting and all. I'm surprised, though, they didn't come up with new mysteries for the Vegas version, though, what with these already having roamed and, presumably, many die-hard fans have tried them out. And the 12,000-square-feet don't really drip with CSI memorabilia and fan-fave displays and information the way the displays outside Star Trek: The Experience did at the Las Vegas Hilton. Maybe more is coming.

On Sunday, its first day open, I went to see how it actually works. (I had attended the ribbon/crimetape cutting, hence the photo above, but fell ill Saturday and couldn't stay to explore then.) While there, an official (surprisingly) showed me the attendance figures for the day, broken down by the hour. The first hour was the best -- 98 paying customers from 10 am to 11 am. By 5 p.m., when I was there, they'd had exactly 400 paying guests. The fellow told me they are aiming for 1,000. So not so good for opening weekend and no evidence that CSI fans were dying, har har, to get in in any real numbers.

Granted, they're just starting up and a significant PR push, I have no doubt, is yet to come. The 10th season hasn't started, either, and there's no doubt there will be an intense push to raise awareness of the attraction in that forum which should pay off.

Even so, I sense a struggle to break through the clutter of Vegas attractions here without some strong word-of-mouth, and the folks we were with found it interesting but not necessarily thrilling in the way that gets Vegas juices flowing. It's hard to imagine people rushing home and saying, 'Oh, wow, you gotta see this!' the way they do for, say, the Vegas version of "Phantom."

There were also some opening-weekend kinks to work out. The first thing that happens is that you are ushered into a room where you're supposed to watch a video overview of the whole idea of forensic science and Gil Grissom explains what you're supposed to do but not terribly specifically. You knew this because after you exit and go to look at the crime scene to which you are assigned, you're unclear as to where to go next once you're done. The group we were with just congregated, jotting down clues and waiting for a guide to tell us what to do.

Also, that video room was huge with no seats, so people were sitting on the floor, which was odd, and the air conditioner was enormously loud to the point where many people -- not just me with my hearing problem -- had trouble understanding what was being said on the video. I didn't ask, but I'm doubting they had any form of hearing-assistive technology whatsoever. I wondered why the thing wasn't captioned or why people weren't offered any of the information in other languages than Spanish or English throughout the attractions. I recall from my time living in China that Asians love CSI, but what would a Chinese tourist do here? Strange that they wouldn't have that sort of thing worked out well in advance since that's the point of housing such a thing in Vegas, right?

Like I said, it's a creative idea. You don't need to be a CSI fan to have some fun with this and, in fact, I'm not and had a good time. The L.A. Times' Jen Leo oddly wrote -- I suspect copying right off a press release -- that each crime scene takes you 60-90 minutes, which is an absurd overestimation. That they charge another $26 to "re-enter" and check out one of the other two crime scenes seems a bit steep, too, on top of the $30. Once you "get" what you're doing, there's no reason why this should take more than about 20-30 minutes.

Time will tell on this one. It's not the easiest thing to find in the behemoth that is MGM Grand, so I suspect there will be plenty of two-for-one tickets available mighty soon at least to get some buzz going.