Friday, June 10, 2005

The Cut Should Be

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That may be true but there's a difference between slavish imitation of a concept and imitation that brings something new to the table. The "new" CBS series The Cut is a slavish imitation of NBC's The Apprentice and the result is scarcely flattering to anyone involved.

The Cut
offers some lucky person a chance to design a line of clothing for Tommy Hilfiger's label, with a salary of $250,000. Sixteen players are challenged to work their way to the top. They are a diverse group, although most have some professional connection with the clothing industry or with design, either as designers, boutique owners, or manufacturing. There are some interesting people, like Chris C., the guy "from the ghetto" who is working on his Masters in Fine Arts; or Felix, the professional skateboarder who has also designed his own line of clothing. Even Julie, the requisite "stay at home mom" is at least marginally interesting - she designs handbags and was a display manager for Benetton in the 1980s.

To begin the competition, Hilfiger picks two of the competitors that he feels have the best personal style, on the grounds that "first impressions matter". They get to do the old schoolyard routine of picking people to be on their teams for the first challenge, although he does say that there are no set teams, they will be shaken up each week. There are no set project leaders - they will emerge as the project wears on. When the picking comes down to the final two he asks the leaders why these two haven't been picked. In both cases it's because the people doing the picking say that their look says that they won't work well as part of a team.
The first task is to develop and paint a billboard to promote the Hilfiger line and to incorporate the Made In New York logo. The two billboards are at the corner of 50th and Broadway and the teams take the name of the street that their billboard faces. The teams each have 48 hours and $3,000. Two radically different visions emerge. One team immediately chooses Chris C, the graphic designer as leader. They decide on an abstract design with an old Hilfiger logo (a heraldic lion) and a version of Tommy's own signature. The other team decides to try a New York skyline complete with the Statue of Liberty done in stripes, with the slogan "Tommy NY" done in red white and blue to give it the appearance of "To My NY". A contestant named Tommy takes it on himself to do a version of Hilfiger's flag logo but in "tertiary colours" because he likes tertiary colours. Quite frankly the abstract design is a better work of art, although it takes them a long time to get started actually putting it in place. The skyline design almost immediately looks amateurish, but it is taking a long time to get paint on the board to the point where some of the women on the team want to take the Statue of Liberty off because they're afraid of running out of time. Felix, who created the concept, and Jeff insist on carrying it out as designed. They get it finished but even as they're finishing it is starting to rain and the rain is making the paint run.

After 48 hours, Tommy Hilfiger arrives to check out the billboards accompanied by George, the man who designed the first billboard that Hilfiger himself put up at this very corner and who was also responsible for the MTV slogan "I want my MTV." George isn't impressed with either design, but he's particularly critical of the abstract design with the logo that isn't currently in use and the Hilfiger signature is really too small to stand out and amake a statement. Hilfiger tells the team that they'll find out the winner in "Style Forum" later that night. Each team is confident but in the end it is the team with the skyline design that wins. It isn't because of the design though. In fact Hilfiger lays in to contestant Tommy because he dared to change the Hilfiger flag logo; logos work because they're recognised so you don't change them lightly. What wins it for the skyline team is the slogan they came up with. He then turns to the losing team. He immediately calls Chris C forward and recognises that he did the most work on the project so he's safe from elimination. He has to choose the two people he felt did the least work on the project. He picks Jessica, a former Miss Minnesota, and Amy, a personal shopper from Chicago. He asks them what they contributed to the project and then asked the team members who did the least work. Amy has trouble defending her contribution, while Jessica pointed out that she saved money for her team by making a deal with the company that provided the decals for their billboard which saved the team some money in return for advertising on the bucket truck they used to create the billboard. It's enough to save her from elimination as Amy is deemed "out of style" and told to "take the runway."

The Cut is the less popular bastard child of The Apprentice is clear from the start. The interior of Hilfiger's "style court" is far less intimate than Trump's boardroom but beyond that I see little difference between the two shows. What I as a viewer need is something to differentiate between the two series and I'm definitely not seeing it here. There are differences but they are too minor to be of consequence while the similarities - from "style court" to the swank and oversized three story SoHo loft the teams are living in, are too glaring to ignore. There seems to be not a trace of originality here. It is illustrative to compare The Cut to this summer's other "faux Trump" series, Hell's Kitchen. I think that Hell's Kitchen is both the more interesting show and the better adaptation of the concept behind The Apprentice. The idea is the same in all three shows - someone has to impress a big name in their field in order to win an opportunity to work in that field. The difference is that Ramsay is omnipresent in their working lives, and the challenges they face aren't abstract, they're what they're going to have to do if they do win their own restaurant. Ransacks personality is forceful to the point of being frightening to small children and patrons expecting a bit of schmoozing, but at least he has a personality, which is more than I can really say about Hilfiger after the first hour and a half in his presence. In the end, Tommy Hilfiger - as the star of his own show - comes off as a cut-rate Trump and The Cut looks like a cheap and cheerless knock-off of The Apprentice.

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