Archive for Thursday, July 23, 2009

‘Popular’ urges snap judgement

July 23, 2009

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Reached last week by telephone at his London home, host Graham Norton seemed excited to discuss “Most Popular” (9 p.m., WE). A game show combined with a social experiment, “Popular” encourages a studio audience of 100 women to judge a panel of seven contestants based entirely on hunches and first impressions. In fact, one worthy woman gets voted off before she even opens her mouth.

The remaining six face a series of probing and revealing questions and ultimately face elimination, one by one. After each round, Norton interviews members of the audience who reveal why they voted to jettison a particular player. The snap judgments can be brutally frank but are rarely merely mean-spirited.

While “Popular” can unfold with the breezy nature of an afternoon game show, it is loosely based on “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” (Little Brown, 2005), the bestselling book by New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, which argues that first impressions may be more significant than previously considered.

Norton finds the dynamic between the judges and the judged “very revealing” and “almost chemical” in nature. “By the end of the show, I’m rarely surprised by the ultimate decision. It’s like a big party where people gravitate towards those they like and avoid those they don’t,” he said. Women, Norton contends, “are used to being judged about their appearances” and know the importance of first impressions. “They are aware of being aware.” He’s not sure how this would work out with men. “There might be fights.”

Quick-witted and empathetic, Norton plunges into the studio audience with the gusto of Monty Hall and a talent for cajoling revealing and, at times, risque comments from perfect strangers. Imagine an R-rated Art Linkletter and you’re getting close.

The Irish-born Norton seems only casually acquainted with his reputation in America, where he can be seen on “The Graham Norton Show” on Comedy Central, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” on BBC America and now “Most Popular” on WE. “My, I sound quite busy,” quipped Norton with an infectious laugh.

• Sparsely populated and shrouded in secrecy during the Soviet era, the remote region of Kamchatka remained an undocumented nature preserve until the cameras of “Wild Russia” (7 p.m., Animal Planet) arrived to capture the delicate balance between sea eagles, bears, salmon, foxes and other exotic critters in one of the coldest and most volcanically active places on earth. In fact, “Wild Russia” documented the area’s lush, green Valley of Geysers right before an eruption reduced the natural Eden to a wasteland of mud and rubble.

Tonight’s other highlights

• Billy Zane guest stars on the final two episodes of “Samantha Who?” (7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., ABC).

• Singer Taylor Swift guest stars on “CSI” (8 p.m., CBS).

• Two more leave the competition on “So You Think You Can Dance” (8 p.m., Fox).

• Michael makes a family intervention on “Burn Notice” (8 p.m., USA).

• Jury tampering can be murder on “The Mentalist” (9 p.m., CBS).

• Toby helps put a serial offender away on “The Listener” (9 p.m., NBC).

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