All reality TV is inevitably derivative, but the new quiz show “Studio 7” draws so liberally and artfully from such an array of sources it’s hard not to admire it. Producer Michael Davies bent the TV rulebook five years ago with “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and, considering the WB’s modest expectations Thursday nights, could wind up providing another network with a much-needed — if only temporary — answer for a challenging timeslot.
Davies’ latest series most closely resembles NBC’s “The Weakest Link,” but it doesn’t require an especially keen eye to pick up elements of “Millionaire,” “The Real World” and “Survivor,” to name a few. Heck, there’s even a touch of “Logan’s Run,” what with the cool sci-fi style visual effects, melodramatic Pool of 7 and fact that not one of the ethnically and regionally diverse contestants is over 23.
Even “questioner” Pat Kiernan, as he’s billed in the credits, seems to be stoically channeling the late Rod Serling, and I mean that in a good way. Wasting little time, he grills the seven players about current events and pop culture, with each possessing a sort-of lifeline allowing him or her to enlist help from a fellow participant if caught flat.
The hardly novel twist is that the seven have spent the week living together, providing them time to forge alliances, discern strengths and weaknesses and develop views of each other that will theoretically dictate how they play the game.
In the premiere, much of the attention — not surprisingly — focuses on Amy, a Yale grad who, in typical TV fashion, arrives with the added bonuses of being blond and zaftig. Although she’s seen as the gal to beat, the nature of the competition tends to mitigate against sheer intellect, with little rhyme or reason regarding which questions a contestant receives as well as confounding tasks such as memorizing and recalling lists of data.
Once two contestants miss a question in a round, the others decide whom to vote out. Eventually, two are left to duel for the prize of $77,000, which proves that quiz show inflation ain’t what it used to be. Still, there’s also a clever serialized touch — namely, that the seven winners will square off in the eighth episode, with $777,000 on the line.
It’s all wildly manipulative, of course, down to the beating-heart sound effects and just-below-the-surface seeds of gender, class and even age warfare — which, in the land of WB, means wondering if the 18-year-olds will be mismatched vs. those in their 20s.
That said, enough time has elapsed since the great 2000 logjam of “Millionaire” clones to leave “Studio 7” feeling relatively fresh. The timing also seems fortuitous, with “Jeopardy!” contestant Ken Jennings’ “Champagne for Caesar”-like streak potentially ratcheting up interest in the quiz genre.
As a result, this midsummer arrival could give an ailing WB one less hour to worry about come fall, with the disclaimer that it’s never clear what sort of shelf-life such confections possess, as “Link’s” brittle host, Anne Robinson, could doubtless testify.