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Archive for Tuesday, July 17, 2007

GSN gets heavy on us

July 17, 2007

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I've always seen GSN as a safe refuge from harsh realities. It's an alternate universe where Charles Nelson Reilly is turning a deeper shade of orange and sharing slightly bawdy banter with Brett Somers and Gene Rayburn.

Things change. GSN presents "Without Prejudice?" (8 p.m., GSN), a psychology experiment masquerading as a reality show offering a weekly variation on "Twelve Angry Men." There's a cash prize. Does that make it a game show?

On "Prejudice," a panel of five people is asked to judge another group of five in the next room. In each episode, the panelists will vote off players one by one and reward the last person $25,000. And they are encouraged to vote for and against players based on their gut instincts.

In the first round, a middle-aged guy gets voted off when the women panelists find him "creepy" at first sight. A burly panelist with a slight resemblance to the Rock says he can't stand one player because "I don't like black people." This elicits a strong response from another panelist, a black man. He's not so much shocked by the man's overt bigotry but by his exhibitionist need to reveal this "truth."

"Prejudice" is not without sociological import. We live in an age when writers like Malcolm Gladwell, in his book "Blink," tell us that all of our major decisions are snap judgments. And, at any given moment, a zillion young people are pouring over Facebook and MySpace, trolling a vast ocean of confessional data in the desperate desire to make a personal connection.

"Prejudice" also sends up the conventions of shows like "Extreme Makeover." In giving prizes to the down-on-their-luck, "Extreme" almost follows the old Marxist nostrum: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." "Prejudice" reflects a different ethos. We give money to people we like (and refuse money to people we hate) because we feel like it. It specifically forbids players to reveal what they would do with the winnings until the game is over.

"Prejudice" poses hard questions. Do we want people to be honest and impulsive? Or do we prefer when they are nice?

Somewhere in game-show heaven, Kitty Carlisle Hart is looking down. And she is not smiling.

¢ A therapist trades quips with his feisty mother, wacky fellow doctor, gorgeous wife and three cute, precocious children on the new sitcom "The Bill Engvall Show" (8 p.m., TBS). This is not the worst TV comedy ever written. But it's close.

¢ A retired British soldier and his family leave London for the country and try to grow their own food and generate their own electricity in the engaging weekly series "It's Not Easy Being Green" (8 p.m., Sundance).

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