"Nashville" (8 p.m., Fox) may be the first new network show of the fall season, but it feels more like a summer reality series. Make that a cable summer reality series - and a bad and forgettable one at that.
"Nashville" follows the hopes and dreams of a handful of would-be country stars as they hit Music City. An overlapping tale of talent and ambition, love and heartache should be intriguing. It's no coincidence that the show shares a title with Robert Altman's sprawling 1975 epic comedy.
But while that brilliant film resonated with the political tumult and social disconnections of its era, "Nashville" caters to an audience more accustomed to the thin gruel of reality TV drivel, a starvation diet for the mind sure to leave its audience benumbed and bored.
In short order, Rachel departs for Nashville. She's the daughter of famous quarterback Terry Bradshaw, and she travels via limo and private jet.
We also meet the down-home Mika, who describes herself as a coal miner's daughter. She arrives on the bus from Kentucky.
Chuck is way ahead of the game. He's got a record company eager to hear his audition. Texas natives Matt and Jeff make a grand total of $25 playing a local dive. Matt once played the Grand Ole Opry and even had a song on the radio, but his recording deal fell apart and he's trying to work his way up - again.
The slick Clint hovers over these characters and their dreams like a preppy Great Gatsby. He's working for his daddy's company. They sell private jets. By the end of the first episode, Clint has thrown parties, met everybody and put his moves on any number of the women and has made an enemy of at least one major character.
In true reality TV fashion, "Nashville" puts all of the emphasis on the squabbles and surprisingly little on the music itself. On the other hand, in order to write songs that matter, you have to have thoughts and feelings. And the reality TV format has no room for characters who can express ideas.
The only thing that seems to motivate these photogenic kids is the desire to be a "star" and possess the trappings of stardom that seem to include oversized houses and swimming pools. As it is, almost all of these seemingly unemployed musicians drive brand-new expensive cars.
I'm always amazed at how network television caters to the young viewers it covets. It depicts them as empty-headed dolts incapable of any sensitivities beyond sitting by the pool, going to the mall or "hooking up." I'm often surprised that young viewers don't complain or express outrage. But then again, I suspect that most members of this key demographic will show their displeasure in the most effective way possible - by ignoring "Nashville" completely and sentencing it to a well-deserved and early death.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ Guard dogs out of control on "The Dog Whisperer" (7 p.m., National Geographic).
¢ "NOW" (7:30 p.m., PBS, check local listings) spends time with soldiers in Iraq, some for their third deployment in four years.
¢ Sibling rivals on "Meerkat Manor" (7:30 p.m., Animal Planet).
¢ "Expose" (9:30 p.m., PBS, check local listings) examines safety in the trucking industry.
¢ The battle with New Bern begins on "Jericho" (8 p.m., CBS).
¢ Ed mulls retirement on "Las Vegas" (8 p.m., NBC).
¢ Adrian can't sleep on the season finale of "Monk" (8 p.m., USA).
¢ Les explores the Cook Islands on "Survivorman" (8 p.m., Discovery).
¢ A hit-and-run accident on ambassador row on "Numb3rs" (9 p.m., CBS).