It's not unusual for a program to be dead on arrival. But "Stylista" (8 p.m., CW) seems more like a cadaver of a show that died a long time ago, exhumed for no good reason at all.
A stale hybrid of "Top Model" and "I Want to Work for Diddy," filtered through the soggy coffee grounds of someone's memory of "The Devil Wears Prada," this series asks us to care about 11 young people vying for a spot as an editorial assistant at a women's magazine.
But don't go looking for the drama, pathos and insight of "The Bell Jar." This crowd arrives marinated in the mean-spirited, empty-headed narcissism of the reality genre. OK, there is one exception - a plus-sized contestant who vaguely resembles a human being.
The screening process for shows like this seems weighted toward shallow people with an annoying up-speak, a forced accent that makes every statement sound like a hesitant question uttered by a petulant poseur. And it's not clear whether these creatures were born without backbones or had them surgically removed for cosmetic purposes.
Their first test of "editorial" skills is to prepare breakfast for their boss. This task doesn't just call for shopping and budgeting skills: It requires the ability to read her mind. When she arrives, she berates the kids for buying foods she doesn't tolerate. That her behavior resembles that of some medieval warlord or a cruel commandant from "Stalag 17" doesn't raise a plucked eyebrow. These style serfs were born to grovel.
It's about this time, while watching a show like "Stylista," that I channel my utter boredom into sour rumination and I begin to wonder: Just how did we come to this?
The values, lessons and implications of "Stylista" offer a complete perversion of the American entertainment tradition. If this were "The Wizard of Oz," these kids wouldn't be searching for a heart or a home or a brain or courage. They'd be fighting to intern for the Wicked Witch of the West. They should call it "I Want to be a Flying Monkey!" It's time to pour a bucket of water on this vile concoction and make it disappear.
¢ The film "Chicago 10" on "Independent Lens" (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) recalls the conspiracy trial arising out of the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention. The film splices archival news footage with a cartoon re-creation of the legal proceedings based on actual trial transcripts.
The combination of visual media is at once disorienting and compelling and offers an apt reflection on events, attitudes and personalities that have transcended history to enter the realm of mythology.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ Mike poses as a Marine to foil a plot by renegade soldiers on "Knight Rider" (7 p.m., NBC).
¢ David Arquette, who recently guest starred on "My Name is Earl," guest stars on "Pushing Daisies" (7 p.m., ABC).
¢ Nick may face his mother in court on "Dirty Sexy Money" (9 p.m., ABC).
¢ The "Prototype This!" (9 p.m., Discovery) gang tries to turn scrap metal into boxing robots.
Michael Keaton gives the performance of an after-lifetime in the wildly concocted ghost comedy "Beetlejuice" (7 p.m., Family), directed by Tim Burton and co-starring Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis and Winona Ryder.