Advertisers bet on new casino in NBC's Las Vegas

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The sprawling new set of the NBC series Las Vegas could be mistaken for an actual casino.

Built on six soundstages at Culver Studios in Culver City, the 40,000-square-foot Montecito boasts genuine felt on the blackjack tables, faux-marble walls and 30 surveillance cameras installed in the ceilings.

The lavish gambling palace also features an Aston Martin dealership inhabiting one of the storefronts on a new wing of the set. The automaker is one of a growing list of real-life brands posing as a tenant in Las Vegas story lines.

To help ease the financial burden of what may be the largest set in TV-series history, executive producer Gary Scott Thompson turned to marketers.

"We have a set that cost us a fortune," said Thompson, who declined to disclose estimates. "We're a high-budget show; we need help. By help, I mean, we'll put your shop into our casino. We'll need some help building that shop."

Las Vegas, which begins its third season on September 19, provides a more marketing-friendly setting than shows featuring forensic investigators and alien invaders.

"We are an anomaly," Thompson said. "This is the one show you can get away with doing it."

NBC is busy lining up marketers in several categories including clothing, jewelry, and food; in addition to the Montecito's new mall, an entire restaurant space sits empty awaiting a brand. General Motors and Hewlett-Packard, which integrated their products in previous Las Vegas seasons, will return but without a retail presence on the set.

Reality shows have largely driven the upswing in product integration in recent years, but sitcoms and dramas have gradually gotten into the act, including ABC's Desperate Housewives and Fox's Stacked.

Building replicas of retail outlets into a set is not unprecedented in Hollywood. Two recent Steven Spielberg films, Minority Report and The Terminal, featured a multiplicity of brands. It is a rarer sight on TV, though gourmet chain Dean & DeLuca was something of a recurring character on the WB series Felicity, serving as the site for the title character's part-time job.

Not every brand integrated into Las Vegas will command its own actual space. In the case of Aston Martin, the dealership depicted is actually just a storefront with branded signage; shots of the facade will be mixed with footage taken from a real Aston Martin outlet.

As a brand bombarded with requests from all sorts of productions for use of its vehicles, Aston Martin was keen to get involved with Las Vegas because it could convey its retail presence, according to Geno Effler, the automaker's brand communications manager.

"That's a key reason that got us over the hump and enticed us to participate in this," Effler said. "It's not just a car sitting out in front of the hotel."

As part of the deal, Aston Martin also is handing over the keys to its most expensive model -- a $250,000 DB AR1 convertible -- for inclusion in the show as the pet vehicle for "Big Ed" Deline, the casino boss played by James Caan. The car occasionally will get its own story line, like an upcoming episode in which Deline lends his beloved vehicle to an employee trying to impress a date, only for it to wind up at a chop shop.

If putting a fancy car dealership in a casino seems familiar, that's not an accident: Ferrari has set up shop in hotel magnate Steve Wynn's eponymous new palace. Thompson wants Las Vegas to keep step with the real city, which has seen retail outlets and other entertainment rival gambling as the main attraction.

"We couldn't accurately portray what true Vegas was," he said. "So when we decided to move to the new studio, we said to NBC that we needed to get real brands into the casino."

The brands will find themselves in pretty spacious new digs. The Las Vegas set is three stories high, making room for new features including a sports book with multiple large-screen TVs and an elevator bank fronted by stained glass with working elevators. But don't be fooled by stunning shots of the Montecito's exterior; it's all computer-generated, from the heliport to the waterfall spilling over the facade.

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