So who said “hopelessly derivative” has to be a pejorative term? Fresh off his underwhelming outing with ABC’s “American Inventor,” Simon Cowell is back on a new network with a project that weds “Star Search” to “The Gong Show,” garnished with a pinch of “American Idol.” The result, if initial ratings are any indication, could be a modest little summer hit, continuing in the vein of cheerfully stupid unscripted fare into which NBC tapped with the no-skill-required gameshow “Deal or No Deal.”
Give Cowell his due: He appears steadfastly convinced that Americans will queue up for competition shows featuring a trio of judges, one of whom (in this case, media personality Piers Morgan) is a snotty Brit. And after a few misfires, maybe he’s right.
Morgan is clearly the harshest judge, flanked by David Hasselhoff (insert your own joke here) and Brandy, who proves it’s possible to be more of a touchy-feely powder-puff than Paula Abdul. The competition, meanwhile, encompasses every imaginable kind of talent, from an 8-year-old standup comic (“Take my mother — please!”) and a 14-year-old singer (no age limit here) to jugglers, ventriloquists, magicians, dog acts, a rappin’ granny and a 65-year-old male stripper.
At the risk of rousing Chuck Barris’ dangerous mind, when all three judges gong (er, that is, buzz out) a contestant, he’s done — though in Wednesday’s two-hour debut, a surprising percentage of those featured were passed through to the next round. (Like ABC’s “Master of Champions,” which premiered Thursday, the series was not made available in advance for review.)
Given the bizarre nature of some acts, it’s easy to see the appeal of these programs to the major nets. Not only are they inexpensive, but they also yield instant human-interest stories that, in success, will provide delightful, unthreatening fodder for their increasingly news-challenged morning programs. Win-win!
Like “Deal or No Deal,” “America’s Got Talent” doesn’t take itself too seriously, beginning with Regis Philbin as the ringleader of this flying circus. The only truly annoying element is the by-now obligatory arguing with the judges by those given the hook, which has grown tedious even on “American Idol.”
Granted, it’s possible this kind of novelty will wear off quickly, but if the series can sustain close to the estimated 12.4 million viewers that sampled its premiere, NBC might have another arrow in its quiver for the coming season, which, one suspects, could be needed sooner rather than later.
Anticipating failure in TV, alas, is one of those talents that never goes out of style.