with Paul Kay
With the ubiquity of reality television these days, anyone who isn't familiar with the daily pressures and strife of working in an airport, a vet's surgery, a hospital, a police station or a beauty salon clearly doesn't spend enough time in front of the box. But while these workplaces have been visited ad nauseum, American Casino (Discovery Travel & Living, today at 11pm) seems to have found a niche worth exploring.
Set in Las Vegas' Green Valley Ranch Resort, Casino and Spa, far from the brash neon and garish gimmicks of the Strip, the show follows the owners, management and staff as they oversee the day-to-day running of the business. Unlike many of the city's famous gambling palaces, Green Valley remains family owned and prides itself on providing the personal touch that exemplifies 'the way Vegas used to be'.
Episode one takes place over a particularly busy week at Green Valley, with two events happening that stretch the staff to - and beyond - their limits. First up is the Epicurean Awards Banquet, which executive chef Joseph Mulligan excitedly describes as 'like the Academy Awards for the food and beverage service industry in Las Vegas'. Mulligan's insistence that his team 'get out there and
kick some culinary butt' is not lost on pastry chef James Fricker, who tries to construct an elaborate, 1.5-metre table centrepiece comprised entirely of sugar. Things don't go entirely to plan and after Fricker works for three days without sleep, it is not just the sugar structure that is in danger of dissolving.
Superbowl weekend takes over the remainder of the casino as ruddy-faced director of marketing Wayne Shadd attempts to organise two huge parties for busloads of gridiron fans. He seems to be on the right track - and on cloud nine - when he decides to 'interview' a series of glamour models for a sports-jersey auction to entertain the fans. Before long, however, he falls foul of general manager Joe Hasson. A new recruit at Green Valley, Hasson is keen to stamp his authority on proceedings but, far from his family, he soon finds it lonely at the top.
Back on the floor, meanwhile, security guard Fred Tuerck has his work cut out when an intoxicated customer starts causing trouble at the gaming tables. Before long, the loudmouthed offender is in handcuffs and on his way down into the bowels of the casino. Fortunately for him, the tough tactics and frontier justice dished out by goons in every Las Vegas-set movie from Casino to The Cooler are not in evidence and he escapes with his thumbs intact - although he does cop a lifetime ban from Green Valley for his troubles. Harsh, but as another employee says, 'In the casino business, you win some and you lose some.'
Stretching the boundaries of reality television even further is Ghost Hunters (Star World, Saturday at 9pm), which focuses on the activities of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS). Plumbers by day and ghostbusters by night, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson (right) are the supernatural odd couple to call when there's something strange in your neighbourhood. Accompanied by their intrepid team, including electronics wizard Steve Gonsalves and mild-mannered demonologist Carl Johnson, Hawes and Wilson kick off this new series by investigating a haunting in small-town Pennsylvania, where levitating toys and a ghostly little boy have driven a mother and her daughter to their wits' end.
Travelling around in a dedicated van and employing all manner of hi-tech devices and electro-magnetic field readers, they uncover some hair-raising findings, such as sinister voices that appear only on tape. The main appeal of this show lies in its ability to veer from the creepy to the comical as the TAPS team's efforts often go awry. From getting lost on the way to a job to having to seek permission from their long-suffering wives to spend the weekend investigating a ghostly face that turns out to be a picture of 1980s action star Rutger Hauer, there is an element of the ridiculous to their assignments.
Bickering banter is also a constant source of amusement. As Wilson says of Hawes: 'He's like a brother. Jeez, it's almost like he's a wife.' It must get lonely on ghost stake-outs, but perhaps some things that go bump in the night are best left alone.
Also worth catching this week are TVB Pearl's drama-packed finales of the current seasons of 24 (Tuesday at 10.35pm) and ER (Wednesday at 10.35pm), the latter seeing Dr John Carter (Noah Wylie) bid farewell to the emergency room. As the last remaining original cast member, Carter's departure is emotional, although Wylie is unlikely to have shed too many tears - he banked a rumoured US$9 million for his work in the final series.
And finally, those with too much time on their hands may have noticed Discovery Networks Asia launched two new channels yesterday: Discovery Real Time and Discovery Home & Health.
Somewhat confusingly, Real Time has replaced Discovery H&L and is aimed at men (think cars and DIY), while Home & Health has replaced Discovery Health and is aimed at women (expect relationship, health and parenting advice). The fight for the remote starts here.