The old phrase, “Imitation is the sincerest form of television,” has never seemed so timely. Coined by radio star Fred Allen, it perfectly sums up the essence of “Splash” (7 p.m., ABC), a brand-new series that seems anything but.
‘‘Splash” offers a diving board variation on the “Dancing With the Stars” (8 p.m., ABC) formula. Olympic diver Greg Louganis presides, while U.S. gold medalist David Boudia and Australian Olympic athlete and USA Dive Team director Steve Foley serve as judges.
The “celebrity” divers include the tall Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the portly Louie Anderson, beauties Nicole Eggert and Katherine Webb, former child stars Keshia Knight Pulliam and Drake Bell, Playboy mansion denizen Kendra Wilkinson and others.
If “Splash” seems vaguely familiar, you must be among the 3 million or so who tuned in earlier this year to watch the Fox special “Stars in Danger: The High Dive.” Its disastrous ratings earned headlines such as “Fox Diving Show Belly Flops.”
So why is ABC airing a show based on an idea that has already failed miserably? Sadly, it’s at least partly because celebrity diving shows have been hits in Germany and the Netherlands. Many of the biggest reality series (“Survivor,” ‘‘Big Brother”) were popular abroad before infecting our shores. In the imitative world of reality television, what works overseas seems more important than what American viewers like, or don’t like. No wonder so many viewers seem alienated from network television.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Justin Timberlake hosts “The iHeartRadio Album Release Party” (7 p.m., CW).
• Spencer puts her best foot forward on “Pretty Little Liars” (8 p.m., ABC Family).
• Clark and Owen collaborate to find the murderer of an informer on “Golden Boy” (9 p.m., CBS).
• Eileen’s daughter may emerge as an angel on “Smash” (9 p.m., NBC). This series moves to Saturday nights in April.
• A rabid stranger offers a whiff of zombie culture on “Body of Proof” (9 p.m., ABC).
• Boyd and the Detroit mob believe they have Raylan cornered on “Justified” (9 p.m., FX).