The producers of this NBC wish-fulfillment show have endeavored to out-schmaltz ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," and for those who can stomach this level of manipulative fluff, damned if they haven't done it. Cynics will snicker derisively , but don't be surprised if "Three Wishes" conjures up modest Nielsen magic.
The producers of this NBC wish-fulfillment show have endeavored to out-schmaltz ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” and for those who can stomach this level of manipulative fluff, damned if they haven’t done it. Singer Amy Grant and her model-pretty posse descend on Sonora, Calif., in the premiere and leave behind a trail of happy tears as well as lots of new merchandise. Cynics will snicker derisively (with reason), but don’t be surprised if “Three Wishes” conjures up modest Nielsen magic on a night that’s ripe for the picking.Given the numerical title, it’s worth taking a brief inventory of what this updated cousin to “Queen for a Day” accomplishes in a mere 44 minutes, excluding commercials. There are three big wishes granted, three smaller ones indulged, two songs by Grant, innumerable bouts of crying, several shameless plugs for sponsor Ameriquest plus Ford and Yamaha, and enough look-at-me grandstanding by the talent to make Geraldo Rivera resemble a shrinking violet. As if determined to preempt ABC’s upcoming medical-wishes-granted exercise “Miracle Workers,” the centerpiece of the opening hour focuses on a young girl seriously injured in a car wreck who must wear a helmet to protect the holes left in her skull. The second wish requires constructing a football field at the local high school, and the just-try-not-to-cry third deals with a young boy who wants to be officially adopted by his doting stepfather. Grant and her pals busily go about their Genie-like business set to a score so bombastic that Cecil B. DeMille would blush. The 3-W team ostensibly has a week to get it all done, but there’s plenty of fudging in the editing bay, from Grant tracking down the local judge at the airport to “Trading Places’ ” Carter Oosterhouse staging a “surprise” visit to a CEO — without an appointment — to plead for an NFL-quality stadium. Yeah, right. Then again, if you’re going to undertake impossible missions, there’s no room for pussyfooting around. So Grant and company make like modern-day Robin Hoods, extracting freebies from the benevolent rich (in exchange for prominent product placements, naturally) in order to give, give, give to the (relatively) needy. And when that doesn’t work, the Christian pop star falls back on prayer. Sniff all you like, but the producers of “Average Joe” have engaged in some intelligent design here, all right, aimed directly at the hearts of red-state America. On a night where viewing levels and expectations should be modest, it’s the kind of formula many will have trouble resisting — at least, until the show appears to be working, at which point Fox and other nets will quickly pile on with a half-dozen clones. “Four Wishes: Extreme Edition,” anyone?