It seems there are only four original ideas at work on cable TV right now, and all of them have been in the rinse-and-repeat cycle for far too long. “American Loggers” (9 p.m., Discovery) debuts tonight. If you think you’ve seen this before, you have. Many times.
The show follows two brothers and the nine sons they have between them (Rudy, Eldon, Danny, Larry, Gary, Wayne, Jeff, Jason and Matt) as they eke out a rough, tough living in the deepest forests of Maine.
Take a title that sounds a little like “American Choppers” and add a premise that echoes “Ax Men,” then throw in a big family like those featured/exploited on half of the shows on the TLC schedule. Send them out on a deadliest-catch mission that’s a real dirty job and you’ve got yourself a show.
We should consider ourselves lucky that it’s not “18 Loggers and Counting,” or “Jon & Kate Plus Chainsaws,” or the “Real Loggers of Aroostook County.” But those could easily be coming down the pike any day, hitchhiking with some “Ice Road Truckers.”
Of course, the tough-guy genre is not alone in the clone game. Last week, A&E, the network that broadcasts “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” a fourth-generation photocopy of “The Osbournes,” announced that it was watering down the formula even further with “Hammertime,” a show that will catch the “intimate” life of former rapper MC Hammer, his seven children and his wife of 23 years. Wake me up when that’s canceled.
Imitation didn’t start with reality fare and has been around on television at least since “Gunsmoke” spawned “Rawhide” and the “Munsters” spun from “The Addams Family” or vice versa. But trends used to burn themselves out much more quickly then. “Batman” rose, fell and spawned a half-dozen stillborn imitators in just two years. The furious life-death cycle seemed to leave the ground more fertile for new creations.
The fact that people are still using “The Osbournes” (2002) as a template speaks of the creative bankruptcy of an industry dominated by a handful of entertainment entities — corporate behemoths too timid and terrified to tolerate new ideas.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Melinda comes clean with Sam about her special talents on “Ghost Whisperer” (7 p.m., CBS).
• Sarah tries to escape her dreadful dreams on “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” (7 p.m., Fox).
• Lest we forget, “15 Unforgettable Hollywood Tragedies” (7 p.m., E!) reminds us of the never-to-be-forgotten moments that we may have failed to remember.
• Elijah Wood stars in director Peter Jackson’s 2001 epic fantasy adaptation “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (7 p.m., TNT).
• Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood) returns in the 1988 thriller “The Dead Pool” (7 p.m., AMC). Eastwood also stars in the 1985 drifter Western “Pale Rider” (7:30 p.m., ION) and appears on “Late Show with David Letterman” (10:35 p.m., CBS), along with the Randy Rogers Band.
• A mortgage banker becomes a victim of the bad economy on “Flashpoint” (8 p.m., CBS).
• A potential player’s parents need persuasion on “Friday Night Lights” (8 p.m., NBC).
• Echo infiltrates the noisy demimonde of pop musicians and their obsessive stalkers on “Dollhouse” (8 p.m., Fox).