Leave it to Fox not only to clone ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” but to incorporate a strain of “The E! True Hollywood Story” plus a few random threads from the “American Idol” genome. Essentially “Celebrity Ice Capades,” this high-volume, low-IQ hour’s success following its post-“Idol” launch will hinge on the collective appetite for kitsch of the “so bad, it’s still pretty bad, but it has its moments” variety. Given that skating remains the most popular Olympic event, there’s at least the consolation of knowing that real skating will slide to the rescue soon.
Of course, Fox didn’t trust “Dancing’s” feel-good formula enough to give in to it entirely, so among the six celebrities, the network includes “Diff’rent Strokes” co-star Todd Bridges, he of the many run-ins with the law, and Bruce Jenner, whose face has undergone a disquieting transformation since his decathlon days.
Similarly, onetime skater Scott Hamilton appears to have been shot full of happy gas, carrying on as if he were chasing little Frodo toward Mordor. “Wow! Amazing!” is his comment to nearly every routine, proving that having writers credited on reality shows doesn’t necessarily make them any less inane.
As for the format, it’s all “Idol,” with theme music nights, judge Dorothy Hamill in the cooing Paula Abdul role and John Nicks as the snotty Brit reminiscent of you-know-who. The most peculiar aspect of that judging is that what the judges say about the various skating acts has virtually no correlation with the scores awarded. Never mind; the audience boos all of them for being insufficiently adoring.
This isn’t to say that “Skating With Celebrities” is without highlights. For starters, there might not be a more unintentionally hilarious spectacle on TV this season than Jenner in a white military outfit — modeled after Richard Gere’s get-up in “An Officer and a Gentleman” — dancing with partner Tai Babilonia to “Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong.” On the flip side, “Full House” alum Dave Coulier’s Blues Brothers bit with Nancy Kerrigan is actually kind of fun in a silly way.
To the producers’ credit, they have also figured out a way to make “Good Day L.A.” personality and NFL weather pin-up Jillian Barberie tolerable: Play loud music and slap a pair of skates on her.
Still, “Fox attitude” in this genre demands that if a show’s worth producing, it’s worth overproducing, from the music to the faux tension to the various back stories (injuries, struggles, pain) designed to gin up drama.
At some point, too, there has to be payback for Fox’s habit of throwing on programs that are so obviously derivative of other nets’ hits, if only in more discriminating viewers avoiding them on principle.
Fox has already elicited the wrath of its competitors with knockoffs like “Trading Spouses” and “Nanny 911,” but it’s awfully hard to lose a lawsuit for appropriating an idea in TV, where everything is based on something. Even so, if Fox persists in churning out these kinds of warmed-over concepts, the network will be skating on thin ice.