Friday, May 25, 2007

Pathetic Vegas

Associated Press reporter Kathleen Hennessey hit a big homer this week with this I-wish-I'd-done-that piece about lazy Vegas tourists renting those scooters usually used by really obese or frail people to get up and down the Strip rather than walking or taking the Monofail.

Wrote Hennessey: Michelle Bailey, a slender, apparently healthy 22-year-old, used a scooter to get around a pool tournament at the Riviera hotel-casino. "Four-inch heels," she explained with a laugh, pointing to her red pumps.

I do take issue to this part of her prose: "Forking over $40 and their pride..."

This assumes these people had pride to begin with. Can you imagine another city where people would do this? I'd like to see these folks slide backwards on some of San Francisco's steepest streets!

The worst part was Hennessey wasn't even doing this piece in the dead of summer, when it's 115 out and maybe, just maybe, there might be some justification for behaving like an invalid. No, not even then.

The News From Mel Brooks

OK! My interview is now online as a special edition and with a full transcript on You can hear it here or right-click here to download it and listen to it whenever you want. (FYI, Brandon Flowers of "The Killers" is next week's guest.)

The Newsweek piece should be up by mid-day Friday, but here are some of the news highlights, some of which won't make it into that version because of space and will only be found via "The Strip" podcast:

* "Young Frankenstein": "Desperate Housewives" guest star Roger Bart will play Dr. Frankenstein, Christopher Fitzgerald is Igor, Cloris Leachman was not cast because she's too old and not because they were trying not to repeat any actors from the 1974 film. Andrea Martin will play Frau Brucher. The role of Elizabeth, small in the film, has been greatly expanded. The show will open around Halloween at the Hilton Theater. Brooks expects it to play Vegas eventually. There will be 17-18 songs, including "We're The Happiest Town in Town" and "There's Nothing Like The Brain." The workshop will take place in Seattle this summer.

* "The Producers" in Vegas: Brooks believes the show will close next March after one year. He also expects Tony Danza to replace Brad Oscar when Oscar leaves the cast later this year, which confirms a rumor reported by Norm Clarke in the R-J last month.

* Hasselhoff: Brooks says the management never knew about his drinking issues and denied Hasselhoff's daughter's videotaped warning that he could be fired from "The Producers."

* Personal: Brooks explained (for the first time that I've seen anywhere) that he goes by "Brooks" because the former Melvin Kaminsky was going to use his mother's less-Jewish maiden name, "Brookman" but it wouldn't fit on a set of drums he wanted to write it on, so he altered it to "Brooks."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

As. Good. As. Advertised.

Just hung up with Mel. The interview was absolutely amazing. Tons of breaking news in there about the future of "The Producers" in Vegas and about the cast of "Young Frankenstein." Brilliant stuff. Gotta go write and edit audio and a few other things.

Mel Brooks - Today

I'm 40 mins away from my exclusive interview with Mel Brooks, which explains why I've been quiet on the blog the past day. I've been going over his two best films, "Young Frankenstein" and "Blazing Saddles" as well as interviews with Terry Gross from NPR's "Fresh Air."

The results of this interview will include airing the audio by 11 pm PT tonight on this week's episode of "The Strip," posting a Q-and-A for Newsweek probably tomorrow and writing a long piece for next month's Vegas magazine.

I've fought hard (ok, begged hard) for many months for this opportunity; he gave no interviews that I know of to anyone in Vegas as "The Producers" debuted and spoke only at a 20-minute press conference. From what I gather, this may be one of his only interviews before the media blitz to open "Young Frankenstein," the musical adaptation of his film, which is expected to star "Will & Grace" alum Megan Mullally, "Desperate Housewives" and "The Producers" star Roger Bart and "Thoroughly Modern Millie" Tony winner Sutton Foster. I'm hoping to find out more about the rest of the cast, including who's playing the Gene Wilder character of Frederick Fronkensteen.

And, of course, any insight into hamburger-eater David Hasselhoff, formerly of the Vegas company of "The Producers."

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Help Mug Me

I had some new mugshots taken yesterday because I was unhappy with the original one I had for my guidebook, "Gay Vegas," which is about to go to press next week. I'm curious which of these you like better, Serious Steve or Smiley Steve. Answer in the blog or via email, but please say something today.

Thanks to photographer Denise Truscello, who is opening a gallery of her black-and-white stills from Paris at the Venetian later this week. Check out her site here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Breaking: LV Sands May Want Mirage, TI

I interviewed Las Vegas Sands Inc. COO and president Bill Weidner for a while today for a few longer-term stories, but I asked about Kirk Kerkorian's bid to buy Bellagio and CityCenter. One real possibility is that MGM Mirage could be sold off piece by piece, so I asked him if the owner of the Venetian and Palazzo would want, say, Mirage and Treasure Island -- the stuff across the street. His intriguing response:

"It all depends on what the values might be. We have lots of our eggs in Asia, we have lots of growth coming out of Asia. We think there will be more venues to develop in Asia. We want to position ourselves to be the people for those types of developments. Our fundamental strategy still remains filling the pipeline with future development and building our value from the ground up."

So it's sort of a "sure, maybe." But if it was a definite "no" or even unlikely, he would've clearly said so. Can you just imagine what a stick-in-the-eye it would be if Sheldon Adelson ended up controlling the Mirage, the groundbreaker that arch-enemy Steve Wynn built? Man, that would be cruel.

The audio of this interview will go up later this week in the podcast feed. Weidner talks in detail about Macau, about Palazzo, about why they knew the Las Vegas Monofail wouldn't work and about why Adelson gets the smallest salary of any Strip bosses. If you're not already subscribed through iTunes, click here and join the party.

Busy Tuesday

I'm off to the MGM Mirage shareholders' meeting at MGM Grand shortly to see what's what with the $12 billion offer by Kirk Kerkorian to, essentially, buy Bellagio and CityCenter from himself and out from under MGM Mirage. I'll be writing for Reuters on that. And then, later, I have a chat with Las Vegas Sands President Bill Weidner for tonight's episode of "The Strip."

Yes, that's right. We're postponing airing our Killers interviews until next Tuesday in light of the huge news coming out of Vegas this week about the fate of MGM Mirage.

Gotta get in the shower. Join us from 7-8 pm PT tonight at LVRocks.Com for the live show and chat.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bellagio, CityCenter Going Private?

This is a really big deal. I can't imagine that MGM Mirage would want to sell these key assets, but there's a price to everything. It sure would accelerate MGM Mirage's North Strip plans, hmm? From the AP:

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -- The investment arm of billionaire
investor Kirk Kerkorian says it will enter talks to buy MGM
Mirage's Bellagio hotel-casino and City Center properties.
Shares of MGM Mirage soared in aftermarket trading.
Kerkorian's Tracinda Corporation also says in a filing with the
Securities and Exchange Commission that it wants to pursue what it
calls "strategic alternatives" related to its investment in MGM
Tracinda says those alternatives may include a financial
restructuring involving all or significant part of the rest of the
MGM shares jumped more than 11 percent -- or 7 dollars and 22
cents -- to 70 dollars and 40 cents in aftermarket trading.

The R-J is good. The LVRJ.Com is lousy.

The Review-Journal does a lot of good work. There are certainly Pulitzers to be won in this town and but they'll never be won by this publication because they don't believe in putting the resources where it would matter, but from day to day we get the basic news out of them and occasionally we're even delighted.

The ReviewJournal.Com, however, is an utter disaster. I do not know of another mainstream newspaper Web site as ridiculous as this one. It is clear that it is not managed by journalists because there is never any indication on the Web site which stories the newspaper believes to be the most important or interesting. It's just, largely, an unattractive listing of headlines, and they frequently don't give much insight as to what the story's about (Would you be burning with desire to know more from seeing just this: "Crash Course: A Lot of Trouble"?)

If the headlines are in any particular order at all, then we're led to believe the newspaper thinks the TV and radio listings are the fifth most important thing happening in our city today. Really. Go look for yourself. The interface is about as user-unfriendly and unattractive as it possibly could be. And when it comes to multimedia, never mind. Corey Levitan's I-Am-There pieces are accompanied by some video, but I have no doubt that was Corey's idea and that he puts in the effort to make that happen.

Let's take as an example today's top story in the newspaper, a jailhouse interview with a priest accused of attacking a parishioner. Why isn't there some video of it so we can judge his demeanor? Or a podcast of the conversation, so we can hear the conversation for ourselves? For a newspaper whose editorials routinely attack the government for not trusting the people to make their own choices and so on, the newspaper is awfully paternalistic about how it metes out information.

The reason I rant about this today is because I wanted to spotlight in my prior post Arnold M. Knightly's excellent work scouring the filings of public gaming-related companies to determine the compensation of Vegas' top gaming bosses. In the newspaper, two-thirds of the front of the Business section is devoted to an attractive layout of mugshots of the 11 best-paid execs and a breakdown of their salaries.

It's fun to look at. I wish I could show you in a better way than the photo I post here. (You can click on it and it gets bigger, but I'm not sure it's readable.)

But I can't because didn't put that part of the project up. All they posted was the story itself. Knightly does a fine analysis of the information, but it mainly focuses on Wynn, Lanni, Loveman and Feritta. I'm not finding fault in what Knightly chose to include in the story because he knew he had the backup of the graphics to tell other information, such as the intriguing fact that Sheldon Adelson, the third richest man in the world, was only 8th with $5.8 million in total compensation and a paltry $1 million base salary, the lowest among Strip bosses.

And here's more proof that the geniuses behind this Web site aren't actually even reading what they're putting up: They posted a breakout box next to the story itself online with the blurb that Knightly wrote to explain the graphics and their numbers to the readers. The blurb makes no sense without the graphics.

The only conclusion is that the newspaper, a decade-plus into the Internet-journalism revolution, still has little respect for you, the online readers. That would explain why they very rarely update the site during the day, why they have no blogs or podcasts, why there's almost no Web-only content of any sort.

(UPDATE: The R-J has now posted the breakout graphics for the piece with the info that was missing for half the day. No telling whether they did so in response to this posting or just because someone figured the afternoon was a good time to post information from the paper from the day before.)

Good Readin's

A few good reads I've been meaning to mention...

* Ryan Nakashima of the Associated Press is mostly confined to writing in the staid, APish way. But they let him off the reservation in a big way last month to do a first-person account of bouncing around with Buzz Aldrin on a new attraction from Zero Gravity Corp that flies Vegas tourists over the Pacific and somehow makes them weightless in the process. Fun stuff.

* Kim Barker, who was editor-in-chief of the Daily Northwestern when I was a sophomore in college, is now a Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent in the Middle East. Most of her work is just god-awful depressing because, well, that's the news over there. But this genius story about -- get this! -- a transvestite TV presenter in Pakistan. Rarely does news from this region make you smile, so take it when you can get it. And Kim is as terrific a writer as I remember.

* Sonya Padgett of the Las Vegas Review-Journal nailed another excellent piece this Sunday, this time a profile of the surprisingly mundane lives of a couple who each make their living stripping. Padgett's been doing some really good stuff lately, which is why it's all the more puzzling that she's stuck writing these silly "Strip Tips" boxes every Sunday, blurbs about tourist attractions that everyone already knows about.