Dick Wolf, the super-producer behind NBC’s Law & Order and Chicago franchises, is taking his next project elsewhere due to its risqué elements. Wolf is teaming with longtime collaborator Tom Thayer, The Pacific creator Bruce C. McKenna and Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Schenkkan on American Babylon, an epic TV series about the bloody origins of Las Vegas.
The period drama tells the story of how Las Vegas was built from the perspective of several different characters: Rising mobster Sammy Wise and his iron-willed wife, Esther, who help lead the mob’s takeover of Sin City; Jefferson Delandro, an ambitious Black businessman, his resourceful wife Edda May, and their rebellious daughter, Bella, who fight the structural racism that made Vegas the “Mississippi of the West”; and Michael Arcona, a combat veteran and aspiring reporter, committed to finding the truth, no matter the cost.
Those fictional characters will cross paths with real historical figures such as JFK, Howard Hughes, Lena Horne, and The Rat Pack as the show catalogs their big dreams and last chances, as well as the power, corruption and redemption of the “Miracle in the Desert” — Las Vegas.
Schenkkan created American Babylon and is writing the show with McKenna, who will serve as showrunner. Schenkkan will also executive produce alongside Wolf and Thayer, who won an Emmy for TNT’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. The marquee series hails from Wolf Entertainment and Universal Television and is inspired by the book “The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America“ by Sally Denton and Roger Morris.
“The ‘pursuit of happiness’ has always been a cornerstone of the American Dream. For a long time, I’ve wanted to explore how that impulse unfolded in this epic story of the rise of Las Vegas,” Schenkkan told Deadline.
“I have always been fascinated by Las Vegas, a city that has the most colorful history of any in our country,” said Wolf, who recently signed a lucrative five-year overall deal to keep his company based at Universal TV, which acquired the rights to “The Money and the Power.” With American Babylon, Wolf told Deadline “we are creating a diverse three-family history that spans generations, so viewers will see the growth of Vegas through their stories. The last time I teamed with Tom Thayer on a scripted project, we produced Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which earned a record 17 Emmy nominations and won for Outstanding Television Movie. It’s a high bar, but I think we can clear it with American Babylon.”
Two years ago, Wolf said he considers himself a broadcast television supplier but noted that “if I had the right show for a streamer, I’d be happy to do it there.” American Babylon will be shopped to high-end streamers and premium cable networks such as HBO later this month, and it’ll be particularly interesting to see whether Peacock makes a play for the show, which sounds fascinating.
Of course, no matter how good the writers and producers are on American Babylon, this is the kind of show that will come down to casting, and I look forward to seeing who Wolf lines up here. Here’s hoping he finds something for Pablo Schreiber, who played a terrifying rapist on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and feels like he’d be a good fit in this neon and blood-soaked world.
Las Vegas wasn’t the only U.S. city that fell under the control of organized crime, as New York was also ripe for the taking. For more, click here to watch a trailer for Netflix’s upcoming docuseries Fear City: New York vs. the Mafia.