TNT appears to have settled on a reality-programming strategy centered on big, cinematic concepts to promote during the NBA playoffs, with an emphasis on buff bodies and physical stunts — “Survivor” for those who find the character arcs too demanding; or “Fear Factor,” minus the bugs. Enter “The Hero,” a competition hosted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; and “72 Hours,” a single-episode treasure hunt/travelogue emceed by Brandon Johnson. As summer diversions go, they’re breezy and mindless, but there are more rewarding ways to spend an evening of TV viewing than getting powdered by Johnson and Johnson.
Tapping into Dwayne Johnson’s tough-guy movie image, “The Hero” has the more vague premise, pitting nine contestants against each other in an elimination game to determine who deserves the title, to be voted on by America — or more accurately, the .07% of it likely to tune in. The modest twist is that the usual cutthroat attitude governing such contests is offset by considerations regarding how a true hero would behave, so there are various wrinkles thrown in to test the players’ integrity by, say, offering them money on the sly. A hero, after all, wouldn’t behave greedily or sell out his or her companions; reality TV stars, by contrast, are seldom burdened by such compunctions.
Johnson clearly has fun playing up his motivational role as host, and there is one harrowing-looking stunt in the early going that involves hanging from the side of a building. That said, the participants (who include a pro wrestler and a cheerleader) are a straight-from-central-casting bunch, and before we’ve even gotten to know them, they engage in an inordinate amount of bickering.
Alas, that’s a headache-inducing quality shared by the other half of this tag-team match — the intrepid money-seekers on “72 Hours,” which, unlike a similarly titled movie, doesn’t require anybody to saw off any limbs.
Instead, the self-contained hours (crowning a winner each week, then hitting the reset button) feature nine strangers divided into three teams, competing in a three-day wilderness sojourn on which they’re provided limited resources and subjected to various challenges. The triumphant trio jets away in a helicopter with $100,000 in cash. The losers (based on the swimsuit attire in the previewed episodes) ought to be able to earn at least that much posing for Abercrombie & Fitch’s next catalog.
Braving the elements isn’t the only debt the show owes to producer Mark Burnett’s ouevre, with the first batch of episodes set in Fiji, New Zealand and the Hawaiian island of Lanai. It’s all beautiful to look at for the sullenly landlocked, if rather tedious in the familiar trappings employed to build suspense and create a sense of jeopardy. (Sure, they’re out of water, but somebody must be operating that camera if things get really dangerous, right?)
As a footnote, “The Hero” bears a more than passing resemblance to another reality competition coincidentally premiering June 6, and fronted by another action star, “Race to the Scene.” Mounted for the little-seen Reelz channel, the show overtly derives its challenges from movie sequences and is hosted by Dolph Lundgren.
Like the Rock, Lundgren dives headfirst into this latest role, and frankly, an arched-eyebrow and posing contest between those two would like be more compelling than anything in either series.
Hey, maybe next summer.