Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in the television business it also happens to be the sincerest form of trying to capitalize on a competing network’s success by ripping off their idea and praying to God your ratings crush everyone else’s. It’s one of the many heartwarming reasons why I love covering entertainment.
From the FOX network comes the new reality series“Skating with Celebrities,” which pairs stars with professional skaters for a point-driven couples competition on ice.
It begins Jan. 18, and hopes to do camel spins around the success of ABC’s similarly formatted hit series, “Dancing With the Stars.”
Despite the hard-core reality of my paycheck coming from FOX parent company News Corp., I was fully prepared to bash in this column what looked to be a cheesy knock-off of “DWTS,” served up at a chillier room temperature. But having screened the first episode, I’ll be darned if this thing didn’t grip me tighter than skater Kurt Browning’s stretch pants.
Taking people (and by people, I mean C-level stars) out of their element and placing them somewhere unexpected usually spells rating success. It’s the fish-out-of-water thing. It worked for “DWTS,” but the genius behind “SWC” is that it glides one step farther: you can’t wait to see someone fall on their oft-kissed celebrity behind. Even if we never do get to see that, the idea of it is thrilling.
A distant second in the plus column is that this show stays away from the scary costumes worn by ballroom dancers and skaters alike, and comes up with more creative creations. And by scary, I’m speaking in particular about the kind worn by men. You know, that very low scooped-neck unitard, the kind I can’t believe John O’Hurley had the cojones to wear on “DWTS.” Then again, I guess he did have the cojones to wear one, if you know what I mean.
As for the celebrities, “SWC” pairs singer Deborah Gibson with skating star Browning, actor Todd Bridges (“Diff’rent Strokes”) with couples champ Jenni Meno, FOX football babe Jillian Barberie with hunky pro John Zimmerman, comedian Dave Coulier (“Full House”) with Olympic medallist Nancy Kerrigan, actress Kristy Swanson (“Big Daddy”) with pro Lloyd Eisler and decathlete Bruce Jenner with former skating star Tai Babilonia.
The judges are crusty coach Sir John Nicks (an acerbic Brit, he’s clearly the show’s Simon Cowell), beloved former medallist Dorothy Hamill (the nice one -- a smarter Paula Abdul) and skating analyst Mark Lund (middle of the road and well-groomed, he’s a dandier Randy Jackson.)
The hosts are Scott Hamilton, arguably skating’s top ambassador, and Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders.
First show highlights include Coulier, a recreational hockey player, sawing down the pesky toe picks on his figure skates with a metal grinding wheel; Jenner gliding with all of the grace of Herman Munster (“Your artistry is nonexistent,” barks Sir John) and the “drama” surrounding skater Eisler’s realization that his partner Swanson is left-handed (evidently this is a major road-block to his right-handed ways.)
If the above isn’t enough of a tease, don’t forget the all-important aforementioned wipe-out factor and the creative costuming, as well as the musical themes (the first episode’s was “movie music”) and the custom-built ice rink.
Figure skating has always been a TV ratings draw, which leads me to what is perhaps the single greatest advantage this show has over “DWTS”: most skating pros are recognizable to a wide swath of audience. Nancy Kerrigan is a household name; ballroom dancing stars are not. Twirl for twirl, my eyes are on “SWC.”
This Teddy Is Bare
Did I imply that imitation only happens in the TV business? No -- and you knew better than that anyway. Pop music is full of clones. The latest is Teddy Geiger, who’s got a sound like John Mayer, a face like Paris Hilton’s and is less interesting than both.
In the current cover story of music industry bible “Billboard,” he’s touted as one of the Hot Faces of 2006. A mere 17, his debut album, “Underage Thinking,” hits stores Feb. 28, with the first single, “For You I Will (Confidence),” heading to radio this month.
A native of Rochester, N.Y., Geiger developed a local following among a group that eventually called themselves as “Tedheads.” A self-taught musician -- he plays guitar, piano, bass and drums on the album -- Geiger was discovered by producer Billy Mann (Jessica Simpson, Sting) when he auditioned for the coveted role of Keith Partridge on VH1’s “In Search of the New Partridge Family.” For my money, that should be enough of a red flag.
Geiger also has a recurring role as an aspiring singer on CBS’s upcoming series “Love Monkey,” based on the best-selling book about a record executive (played by former “Ed” star Tom Cavanagh).
If you like John Mayer, listen to John Mayer. His guitar-playing and lyrics clearly rise above the ordinary trash-pop of Geiger’s. And as for the pretty face, God knows we don’t need another Paris Hilton.