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TV Reviews: Reality TV just won't go away

Sunday, January 04, 2004

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on the TV ... reality television strikes back.

  

It seems this will be the way of things until audience interest in the real-life exploits of average Joes (and celebrities) wanes. Of course, that may never happen.

While the networks pretty much put the reality shows away for the fall - with some notable exceptions like "Survivor" and "The Bachelor" - once those scripted series tanked in the ratings, the reality replacements began to rush in.

This week a full onslaught begins, and it's likely to be repeated this summer as networks seek to keep the lights on as cheaply as possible (reality shows typically cost less than scripted series).

Here's a brief look at four new "reality" shows premiering this week:

'The Apprentice'

In addition to a second "Average Joe," which premieres at 10 p.m. tomorrow, NBC unveils the latest offering from "Survivor" guru Mark Burnett Thursday at 8:30 p.m. Donald Trump hosts and plays judge, jury and executioner as two teams of young business people compete for a job as head of one of Trump's companies.

  

"The Apprentice"

When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday on NBC.
Starring: Donald Trump.

Teams are spilt along gender lines, with men (calling themselves "Versacorp") facing off against women ("The Protege Corporation"). Many have been to business school; others use their street smarts to succeed. The first challenge is pretty goofy: Both teams have to sell lemonade on the streets of Manhattan.

"They really gave you a good beating," Trump says to the losing team after the first challenge. "You're going to see the board room, where somebody has to get fired."

That's this show's version of tribal council. The whole thing is pretty cheesy, but I could see "The Apprentice" becoming addictive a few episodes in. After this week, it will air at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, bumping "Ed" to Friday nights.

'Celebrity Mole Yucatan'

Stephen Baldwin and Corbin Bernsen, competitors in ABC's first celebrity edition of "The Mole," return for round two. This time they're joined by former NBA star Dennis Rodman, "Cosby Show" kid Keshia Knight Pulliam, "Growing Pains" star Tracey Gold, model Angie Everhart, comedian Mark Curry and former talk show host Ananda Lewis.

  

"Celebrity Mole Yucatan"

When: 10 p.m. Wednesday on ABC.
Host: Ahmad Rashad.

The setting is Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, but the game is the same: Try to sniff out the identity of the mole.

Without self-effacing comedian Kathy Griffin - the winner of the first edition - there's less comedy from these D-list celebrities, who too frequently take themselves and the game way too seriously.

Bernsen and Baldwin are given the star treatment, but this odd couple isn't as entertaining as they think they are.

'Airline'

The golden age of air travel disappeared on Sept. 11, 2001, if not well before then. Everyone has experienced agita while flying, whether it's due to weather delays or lost baggage. If those bad experiences haunt you, watching "Airline" on A&E could make you anxious.

  

"Airline"

When: 10 p.m. tomorrow on A&E.

But for everyone else, it's a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes at the airline industry, as seen through the employees of Southwest Airlines. The company allowed a production crew to document its employees dealing with passengers, which will unfold over 18 half-hour episodes.

To some, "Airline" will come off as an infomercial for Southwest - its employees do tend to look like saints, while impatient passengers are cast as villains - but mostly it plays up the efforts of the competent employees, not their corporate masters.

At Chicago's Midway, a woman who can't bring her whole family to the gate to meet her daughter plays the race card and claims it's due to racial profiling. The Southwest employee tries to show her the printed regulations, but she's made up her mind.

At LAX in Los Angeles, a customer service supervisor tries in vain to help a couple on a late-to-land flight make their connection. Later she procures new clothes for a man with body odor who is barred from a flight.

"I don't want any passengers inconvenienced as far as them with the whole smell issue," she said, before fretting about the man's embarrassment.

There's no game involved with this show, making it closer to "reality" and docudrama than any of its rivals premiering this week.

'House of Dreams'

There's some merit to "Airline," but it's distressing to see the once proud A&E stoop to the level of airing a low-rent "Survivor" knock-off, and that's just what "House of Dreams" is.

  

"House of Dreams"

When: 9 p.m. tomorrow on A&E.
Host: George Wendt.

Sixteen people help build a home near Orlando, Fla., and compete to be the person to win the chance own and live in the house. George Wendt ("Cheers") plays the Jeff Probst role (not at all convincingly), hosting the competitors, questioning them at eviction ceremonies and leading them through challenges.

Little information about the art of construction is imparted in the premiere hour. Instead the emphasis is on the players as they get to know one another and then scheme for votes.

This dull one-hour show feels interminable. It's certainly no dream series, but it might well put you to sleep.


TV Editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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