On an eye-wringing sunny morning, I queue up with hundreds of other tourists outside a non-descript building in a rundown area north of The Strip. No, we aren’t gathered outside 713 Las Vegas Blvd. S. to haggle for discounted Cirque du Soleil tickets. Rather, each of us is hoping to get up close and personal with the stars of History Channel’s highest-rated show, Pawn Stars. Looking around, I’m well aware my odds of meeting the reality TV sensations are slim to none, but I decide to stick it out anyway. The whole purpose of this trip, I remind myself, is to see as many Vegas-based TV celebrities and set locations as possible.
This lofty goal began to take shape in my living room more than a decade ago, when CSI: Crime Scene Investigation first introduced me to the dazzle and glitz of Vegas’s neon lights. Captivated by the sights I was seeing on my 26-inch TV screen, I vowed I would visit those places myself one day.
As the years passed and my viewing habits shifted, my Vegas must-see list expanded to include the sights and celebrities of the city’s top reality TV shows. Which is why I now find myself standing outside the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, where owners Old Man, Rick and Corey, along with their longtime employee Chumlee, film segments for Pawn Stars.
Every weekday, a select few tourists (of the 5,000 that line up over a 24-hour period) are cast on the spot as extras and get to remain in the shop for filming while the rest are hustled out. Amazingly enough, I’m chosen as an extra, and so I wander the shop for an hour, inspecting various historical items for sale while avoiding looking directly at the camera or staring at Old Man and Corey. It’s a thrill to be part of the action, but I’m disappointed that I don’t actually get to meet the stars.
When I wonder aloud why Old Man and Corey aren’t more approachable, Theo Spyer, the shop’s company CEO, explains. “Teenage girls start to shake and cry when they meet Chum—you would think they were meeting the Biebs [Justin Bieber]” he says. It’s difficult for [the stars] to get any work done if they come up front.”
Andy Spyer, the shop’s VIP host and compliance officer, adds: “Most of their work is done behind the scenes. I’m sure people wish they could meet them more than it actually happens, but I don’t think [fans] are too disappointed because the store has so much cool stuff in it and often they do meet one of the employees or experts who you see on the show, if not one of the Pawn Stars themselves.”
Since viewing vintage collectibles isn’t as personal a celebrity encounter as I was hoping for, I buy a ticket for the polished and more-than-a-little plastic Peepshow at Planet Hollywood. This nude revue stars former Playboy bunny Holly Madison of The Girls Next Door and Holly’s World fame. While most seats in the theatre have an, ahem, exceptional view of Hugh Hefner’s ex-girlfriend’s prodigious talent, the meet-and-greet after the show is where the diehard fans get their chance for a chat and a photo (as long as they’ve coughed up an additional US$100 above the ticket price).
“All of our guests are really excited to have the chance to meet Holly,” says house manager Tracy Keys. “We’ve even had guests cry from the experience because they’ve just met someone they really admire. They are true fans of Holly who follow her on Facebook, Twitter and have come to know so much about her from television.” (Holly will be performing in Peepshow until Dec. 30.)
I’m not one of the weepers, but I do enjoy chatting with the petite blonde and I leave with a racy photo signed for a friend who happens to be a huge admirer.
The next morning, I head out to see a much different sort of show. In homage to my childhood, in which sick days were spent curled up watching The Price is Right, I buy a ticket to the stage show version playing at Bally’s Las Vegas. There, I sit with a few hundred other audience members hoping to be invited to “come on down” for a chance to win one of dozens of prizes. The show is hosted by a rotating lineup of minor celebrities, and my host for the day is former boy band member and TV celebrity Joey Fatone of Dancing with the Stars.
Throughout the show, in which audience members take to the stage to play classic Price is Right games like Hole in One, Plinko and Cliffhangers, Fatone maintains a quick-witted running commentary that makes the whole experience as enjoyable for the audience as it is for those lucky few who walk away with a new set of golf clubs or a television. The live show also features hilarious vintage clips from the TV version, and Fatone points out some original set pieces.
I leave Bally’s Jubilee! Showroom (with a keepsake photo of me next to TPIR’s big wheel) and hike over to the MGM Grand, where I return to my Vegas television roots by checking out CSI: The Experience. Here, patrons wander through the exhibit, clipboard in hand, “solving” a mystery by viewing a crime scene, analyzing evidence through a microscope and using touchscreen programs to answer questions about the case.
Speaking of CSI, it turns out the show isn’t even filmed in Las Vegas—it’s shot predominantly in California. But that doesn’t stop me from checking out a number of Vegas locales that have been featured on CSI over the years, including the roller coaster at New York New York and the Golden Nugget Casino pool (which, coincidentally, appeared in an episode that also featured Holly Madison as Hot Blonde).
The last stop in my Sin City adventure is a graveyard. Featured in CSI, the Neon Boneyard (at the Neon Museum) is a jumbled lot where electronic signs go to die. And that’s where my journey to experience the television celebrity side of Vegas ends—amongst the discarded paraphernalia of the former bright lights.