In essence, “Secret Talents of the Stars” is an old-fashioned variety show, but it achieves a perverse backflip: Taking celebrities and, by prodding them out of their element, turning them into painful-to-watch amateurs. Dismal ratings for the premiere don’t bode well for similar endeavors (tough luck for anyone with “Circus of the Stars” revival plans), but any series that claims to feature “16 of America’s most talented stars” and counts Danny Bonaduce and Marla Maples among them at least deserves some credit for generosity of spirit, bordering on false advertising.
The first hour featured ice skater Sasha Cohen performing with Chinese contortionists, George Takei singing country music (a space to which he should not have boldly gone) and singers Clint Black and Mya doing standup and tap-dancing, respectively. As if trying to dispense with this six-week competition as soon as possible, all voting on each contestant was limited to the four-minute commercial pods, which is sort of the TV equivalent of an election in Florida.
The “stars” notwithstanding, the real standout here is manager-producer Gavin Polone, who complained in the premiere (with considerable justification) about fellow judges Debbie Reynolds and Brian McKnight loving everybody, no matter how much they “sucked.” The audience, which did not outwardly resemble former UTA colleagues, vigorously booed him.
If nothing else, Polone’s on-camera adventure promises to expand the ranks of those who deem him a jerk (an image he seems to relish and whose adherents include, but are not limited to, much of the Writers Guild of America) while proving that the job of “surly reality judge” isn’t just for the British anymore.
The ebullient Reynolds did deliver one memorable line that flummoxed host John O’Hurley, saying that had she mastered just one of Cohen’s contortionist maneuvers, “I could have saved my second marriage.”
Based on the early numbers, it’s unlikely anything will save CBS’ latest nonscripted lark, and those “Secret Talents” are going to remain, for the most part, about as secret as a primetime show can get.