The creators of "Lucky," a new FX series about a professional Las Vegas gambler, didn't need to do any research on the gambling world because it courses through their veins.
"Our uncle was a professional gambler," says Mark Cullen, who also is executive producer and writer of the dark comedy series with his brother, Robb Cullen. "Our cousin runs a riverboat casino on the Mississippi. My brother is a professional gambler and, through my father, we spent a lot of time in Las Vegas because he was a record producer and he produced most of Wayne Newton's albums and did a lot of his shows."
"Lucky," which premiered last week, stars John Corbett of "Northern Exposure," "Sex and the City" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" fame as Michael "Lucky" Linkletter, a likable gambler who won the million-dollar grand prize in the World Championship of Poker only to find himself a year later financially, and emotionally, bankrupt. Lucky, a widower, is desperately trying to give up gambling, get back on his feet and help his friends and other gambling addicts. But it seems the only way he can help people is to gamble.
There is a lot of Robb Cullen in Lucky. "I enjoyed gambling," Robb Cullen says. "I enjoyed playing cards. I enjoyed everything that came with it and I also made a living doing it."
Of course, says Mark Cullen, his brother did lose $600,000 in one afternoon in Vegas. "I was there to see his demise," he says laughing.
"I was playing blackjack," Robb Cullen recalls. "I had been given a sum of money and I wanted to make a movie at the time. I needed $1 million to make this movie. I figured I would take this money, go to Vegas, parlay it into $1 million and make my movie. I got it up to $861,000 and then I hit a real bad streak up to the point I had to take a marker for $100,000. Luckily I won that bet but I lost $600,000 from that $861,000."
Robb Cullen still gambles. "But believe me, I don't gamble with that kind of bread anymore."
His skills came in handy when they shot the pilot in Vegas. "We wanted to do a specific tow shot with Lucky in a convertible," says Robb Cullen. "We didn't have the money we needed to do the shot, so I said if I took some of my own money and I got on a win streak and won, we could afford to do the shot."
"And we did the shot," says Mark Cullen.
Unlike "Ocean's 11" or even "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which depicts the glamour of the Strip, "Lucky" is set in downtown Las Vegas, the veritable other side of the tracks, where the gamblers are "one bet away from being in the big time, but realistically you are toiling in the sewer," says Mark Cullen.
"We have seen the Strip before, and it is such a fantasy-land now," adds Robb Cullen. "New York, New York is across the street from Paris. It is just real pretend and then you get downtown ... "
"And you can smell the desperation of these people," says Mark Cullen.
Corbett decided to do the series after talking to the Cullen brothers. "You have to spend a lot of time working with whomever is running the show," says the actor. "It's important you really like them. I can't stress how important that is. Sometimes it is more important that the script in a way because they are your only backup if you are having problems. The Cullens are like a couple of goofs. They don't take themselves seriously at all."
To get under Lucky's skin, says Corbett, he talked to Robb Cullen. "That was more than enough," says Corbett, who passed on reprising his "Greek Wedding" role on CBS' spinoff series in order to star in "Lucky." And the actor was surprised to find that the high rollers don't go to the big casinos on the Strip but to places downtown like the Golden Nugget and the Las Vegas Club. "The odds are bigger downtown. They have suites there that are on par with the Bellagio for the high rollers. In fact, the Golden Nugget was also Frank Sinatra's favorite club."
"Lucky" can be seen at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on FX. The network has rated this week's episode TV14-DLS (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, course language and sexual situations).
Cover photograph by Julie Dennis Brothers.