Monday, January 08, 2007

Grease: Punishment For My Sins

The condemned man ate a hearty meal - chicken stir-fry in a rather anonymous sauce which I cooked in my wok.

I knew I was in for an ordeal, but I decided that I wasn't going to blow off Grease: You're The One That I Want as a self-imposed punishment for not getting my review of Knights of Prosperity completed in a timely manner. Having seen this new NBC reality series I am forced to consider the punishment cruel and unusual.

The premise for Grease: You're The One That I Want is to find two unknown lead actors for a new Broadway production of the musical Grease! and doing it through a a televised open casting call. After the open casting call, fifty hopefuls will attend "Grease! camp" - I swear I'm not making that name up - to be whittled down to twelve people who will be in the running for the two lead roles. Presumably that will be six "Dannys" and six "Sandys." The public will select who the actors who will have to carry the play will be. As usual with shows of this type there are a trio of judges including the inevitable acerbic Brit (David Ian; he mortgaged his house to produce a London production of Grease in the 1990s), a woman (Kathleen Marshall; a Tony Award winning choreographer and director), and the genial American (Jim Jacobs, who only wrote the book for the musical). Hosting the show are Billy Bush from the entertainment "news" show Access Hollywood and British musical star and morning show presenter Denise van Outen. In the first episode at least Olivia Newton John, who played Sandy in the movie Grease! provided some insights.

Grease: You're The One That I Want is essentially an American Idol clone. More accurately it is a clone of a British clone of the British series Pop Idol. The British series was called How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, and was offering open casting calls for the part of Maria for a London revival of The Sound Of Music. While this gives a certain legitimacy to Grease: You're The One That I Want the fact remains that both shows follow the tried and true "Idol" format with auditions followed by viewer selection of a winner.

At this point I should confess that I only watched the first hour of the hour and a half premiere, not entirely due to boredom with the format combined with fatigue. I saw the complete Los Angeles auditions so there really wasn't much in the Chicago auditions that would have been much different. But then again except for adding a dance segment to the audition process - necessary if you're casting a musical - there really isn't much difference between this show and American Idol, or this show and So You Think You Can Dance, or even this show and America's Got Talent. There's the usual run of people who can sing, those who hideously can't sing, and those who aren't quite good enough. I suppose that there's an extra element here in that the role of Sandy in particular requires a certain quality. Thanks in no small part to Olivia Newton John in the movie, the tendency is to see Sandy as a petite blonde girl - Sandra Dee as seen in the movies of the late 1950s if not the Sandra Dee of real life. Despite this there were a number of African-American actresses who tried out for the part as well as a couple of women who were somewhat overweight. One of them, a young woman named Sunshine (she insisted that this was her real name) was an excellent singer and quite good on the dance side but she wasn't among those called to "Grease camp." I suppose I have a problem with this because it seems unfair to build up her hopes even a little and then make the decision that the judges knew they were going to have to make in the first place.

I'm not sure what NBC's collective corporate thinking was in debuting this show now. Maybe it's an extension of Jeff Zucker's promise not to program scripted shows in the first hour of prime time. This show should be a summer series rather than one that appears in January on one of the most competitive nights of the week. I really don't think it's good enough for this sort of exposure, and it doesn't have a gimmick to make it stand out and separate it from the show that it will inevitably be compared to, American Idol. America's Got Talent was a show that had a gimmick that distinguished itself - two in fact. First of course was the fact that the show wasn't just searching for singers, a fact which Piers Morgan railed about in one of the semi-final shows. The other thing was that the show had an amazingly disfunctional panel of judges who didn't take themselves that seriously most of the time. Grease: You're The One That I Want doesn't have that going for it. It isn't even going to serve as a good lead for The Apprentice: LA because it will hemorrhage viewers that Trump's show isn't strong enough to recover. I can only imagine that the people over at CBS are kicking themselves for not having The Amazing Race: All Stars ready to go right now because I have a suspicion that by the time the CBS show does get on the air Grease: You're The One That I Want will be little more than a memory. People would rather see the "original" American Idol rather than this knockoff. Well I'd rather not see either show, but I just can't see this having anything but abysmal ratings and as far as I'm concerned that's no less than it deserves.

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