Add A&E to the list of cable networks who have sharply deviated from the brand for which they stand, and not for the better. Once positioned as a PBS alternative best-known for period pieces like “Horatio Hornblower,” the former “Arts & Entertainment” net now uses its initials only and has joined the ad-friendly demo hunt — highlighted by this thinly veiled, painfully misguided “Survivor” rip-off. As clones go, it’s an especially pallid one, all the way down to forging alliances and a darkly lit elimination ceremony that suspiciously resembles a tribal council.
In the same way AMC dispensed with that troublesome “movie classics” part of its acronym, this all stems from a desire among even older-skewing cablers to attract a younger crowd. And while “House” might well help accomplish that, given the dearth of under-50 types who could find A&E on a map, it’s hard not to wonder what these niche programmers sacrifice by squeezing into the same ill-defined alphabet soup. What’s next, the History Channel voting gray-bearded historians out of the library?
In a nutshell, the game pits 16 people (why is it always 16?) against each other to see who will keep the “dream house” they’ve brought together to build in the sweaty town of Harmony, near Orlando. Each episode involves a “key ceremony,” in which players try their key in a door, setting up two for possible elimination. The “Survivor”-like template is more of a jungle thicket than it looks — as evidenced by some of the miscalculations made in assembling “House,” which claims to represent “a microcosm of today’s America.” If so, God help us all.
As usual, the roster includes a mix of waiters, bartenders and oddballs (a “professional juggler” ?), but the huge mistake comes in casting a homeless family man, Tony, among the group. Not surprisingly, you can count on reality-show contestants to exhibit sensitivity toward his plight. “This is not a need-based competition,” one of them sniffs.
Working under the stewardship of construction manager Joe Bukey — a younger if more crotchety version of Wilford Brimley — the gang spends less time pounding nails than hammering each other, jockeying to see who’ll be ousted. There’s also plenty of chafing over the antics of Mike, an annoying frat-boy type who liberally uses profanity and makes a strong early bid for recognition as Reality Jerk of the Year, 2004.
Even the product placement for sponsor LendingTree.com is clunky, while host George Wendt (please say he didn’t exhaust all his “Cheers” gelt already) seems uncomfortable in the role, exclaiming during the interminable key ceremony, “This is seriously tense.”
Actually, it’s more like seriously bad taste, especially if you go through however many weeks of nonsense only to ship poor Tony back to the shelter. What’s the consolation prize?: You’ve just missed out on a house, but you’re going to Disney World? As a sign of the TV apocalypse in the name of our amusement, having the homeless play for homes is a pretty good one.
In fact, here’s a thought: Let’s subject the execs responsible to an elimination game to see who loses their house.
Any takers? Didn’t think so.