I must have been nine years old when I first tuned in to a new kids game show called Click. One of the last creations of Wheel Of Fortune creator Merv Griffin, it was essentially a kids Jeopardy with a "Rise Of The Internet" theme that must have seemed a lot cooler in 1998. I turned the show on, heard the announcer introduce "the master of the mouse...Ryan...Seacrest!" and immediately said "Wait, the guy from Gladiators 2000?"
Yeah. If only I had known.
American Idol, hosted by the aforementioned Ryan Seacrest (and while I may make fun of Ryan a little, I actually think he's excellent) is back, with the judges now consisting of Jennifer Lopez (wasn't she in movies once?), Steven Tyler (wasn't he in some band once?) and Randy Jackson (wasn't...oh forget it, I don't know what else Randy's done and neither do you). Of course, this means we have to start with weeks of drawn out auditions.
You know how this works by now. Thousands - heck, I wouldn't be surprised if the number approached a million - of people will audition and go through to the next round if two out of three judges say so. At some point, we'll end up with a dozen or so who will perform live, week after week, so that viewers can vote. Gee, this sounds just like my review of Live To Dance. Also like Live To Dance, the "new" American Idol seems to be missing the stereotype of the "nasty judge" - Steven and Jennifer seem mostly like Paula Abdul split in two. Jennifer is the "I have a hard time saying no to anybody" side, and Steven is the "I go bizarrely off-script" side. Combine those two and we get Paula, and of course Randy's still Randy...yeah, I guess we'll have to wait for The X Factor to get our fill of Simon Cowell.
You may have noticed that I'm talking about the judges, not the contestants...well, duh. The judges are the real stars. Was there any real news or speculation about who would win last year's American Idol? Of course not. Was there enormous amounts of news and speculation about who would be a judge on last year's American Idol? Oh yes. If this show ever meant anything, it doesn't now. American Idol means about as much as another talent show: The Slammer.
The Slammer, broadcast mostly on CBBC (the BBC's kids cable channel), is a spoof talent show that, at least in my book, gives new meaning to the often-repeated game show fan phrase "The British Are Better Than Us". The premise, which I should make clear is completely ficticious and staged, is summed up perfectly by the Expository Theme Tune. The first verse:
"You've beeeeeen found guilty of a howling showbiz crime
So welcome to The Slammer, where you're gonna serve your time
With every type of minstrel, entertainer and artiste,
Performing TO THE LIMIT...to try and get released!"
What more needs to be said? The Governor (played by Ted Robbins) is in charge of a showbiz prison where a bunch of bizarre acts are locked up for "crimes against entertainment." Each week, four of them will perform in front of an audience of kids, and the winner of the "Freedom Show" gets parole. Despite having a premise you will never find on American kids TV, this is without question a kids show, with all the fart jokes and such that that implies.
Each show begins with a few minutes of storyline involving the acts and a few regular characters, usually trying to escape; said story is occasionally cut back to during the show. After each act performs, a few prison officers wander around the audience asking kids what they thought. At the end of the show, a giant clap-o-meter is wheeled out, the Governor signs off "If you can't sing, dance, or rhyme...DON'T DO THE CRIME!" and the act the kids made the most noise for is shown walking out the prison gate over the credits. Most of the acts seem like they wouldn't last more than a few seconds on The Gong Show, let alone a "serious" talent show, but that's not the point.
This show is not for everyone. I'm sure a lot of people would find it horrific that that is the premise of a televison show, let alone a kids show - but I thought it was great and an eight-year-old me would have too. There you have it. Two equally silly and meaningless talent shows - the difference is, one of them is meant to be.