Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On the Lot

John Avnet and Carrie Fisher will guest judge 'On the Lot'

The overnight ratings are in for Fox's "On the Lot," and the news isn't great. The reality contest search for "the next great filmmaker" drew a mere 8.5 million, despite the mega hand-me-down viewership from the season finale of "American Idol" leading in.

With Steven Spielberg and reality TV pioneer Mark Burnett backing this show, I've had it locked into TiVo for weeks now. Nothing I saw last night makes me regret that decision yet, but I can understand the lack of enthusiasm out there after this first impression.

For starters, with Spielberg and Burnett aboard, I expected something fresher than a wholesale "Idol" retread in terms of format. The show is so far a complete cut-n-paste, including the pool of quirky wannabes herded into a high-pressure "audition round" designed to elicit laughs at the weirder and more self-deluded applicants.

There's even a three judge panel -- two guys and a gal, no less -- meant to simulate the Simon/Paula/Randy experience. The fact these three are the veteran and convivial Garry Marshall, A-list producer/director Brett Ratner and Carrie "Princess Leia" Fisher herself is one of its strengths in my opinion, but many viewers no doubt tuned out the moment it became apparent Spielberg himself wouldn't be occupying one of those chairs.

Stories of young Spielberg's own arrival on the lot straight from film school are legend -- tales of how he crashed Universal (or was it Paramount?) by waltzing right past the gate guards with an official-looking clipboard and a friendly wave, urban legends of his setting up a fake office in a broom closet, anything to get that foot in the door by hook or crook... I therefore envisioned something more Bowfinger than Big Brother.

Still, it gave me goosebumps to see those opening scenes from Casablanca and Raiders of the Lost Ark juxtaposed with the contestants' arrival to the Universal back lot. I remember the day I first took an unchaparoned stroll around the Sony lot, and there's nothing like that feeling. These people are about to start living the dream, my dream. So I'll stay tuned. The question is, will anybody else?

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