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NBC lets this dog out

By ERIC DEGGANS, Times TV Critic

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 17, 2002

By now, deep into a reality TV trend that's brought us classics such as Chains of Love, Big Brother and Temptation Island, the question isn't whether NBC's new reality game show, Dog Eat Dog, is going to be awful.

This is the issue: Will it be good bad or just bad?

Good bad is a show so ironic, kitschy or train-wreck horrible that just watching the commercials plugging it is a guilty pleasure (Case in point: My recent addiction to Fear Factor's bizarre mix of competition, sex appeal and can-you-believe-that stunts after months of slamming the show in print.)

All you self-assured, accomplished women who wasted long hours watching ABC's exercise in televised chauvinism, The Bachelor, know what I mean.

Dog Eat Dog is another reality-style game show from the network that brought us SPY TV, Fear Factor and Weakest Link. Like those shows, to serve NBC's summer-filler purposes it must appeal to young viewers, offer endless repeatability and -- above all -- be inexpensive to produce.

So it's little surprise that Dog Eat Dog comes off as a cheapo blend of Weakest Link and Fear Factor, presenting six contestants who vote one among their number to endure a physical or mental challenge. The eventual winner leaves with $25,000.

I say eventual winner, because the show's rules are so convoluted, they make Dungeons and Dragons look like Candyland.

Here's a sample: The contestants hang out with each other a few days before the taping so producers can learn their physical abilities. They return to the studio and pick one person to endure a challenge (first up tonight: a precipitous drop into a pool filled with Styrofoam tubes; the contestant must grab four tubes in three drops to win).

If the contestant completes the challenge, he or she returns to the original group of six and picks someone else to go to the "dog pound." If that person doesn't complete the challenge, he or she goes to the "dog pound."

What's the point of this dog pound, you ask? In a review tape provided to critics, the show's host, an awfully wooden Brooke Burns (Baywatch Hawaii), doesn't fully explain until the episode is nearly over.

But I digress. As the show progresses, contestants are tossed into the dog pound until the final showdown, when the finalist outside the dog pound picks among the five people inside to answer trivia questions. A correct answer earns the pound a point; wrong answers give the finalist a point. First one to get three points wins.

Got that?

Saying too much about tonight's game would ruin what little suspense remains, but suffice it to say NBC recruited a crack cast for the show's maiden run. Among the telegenic contenders: a talkative dink named Skyler (whom everyone seems to hate) and a careerist Marilyn Manson clone named Widow who seems more uncomfortable in tights and makeup than Wesley Snipes in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. (Widow is a supposed goth who says he works out every day. 'Nuff said).

Add a clearly overmatched Burns -- whose strongest talent seems to be dropping, bikini-clad, into a water tank to open the show -- and production so cheap Circuit City has sponsored the video projection screen and Netzero the on-screen timer, and you wind up with a network show that feels more like a badly done MTV Spring Break special than anything grown-ups are expected to waste an evening watching.

But what do I know? I'm the guy who didn't like Fear Factor in the first place.


Dog Eat Dog airs at 9 tonight on WFLA-Ch. 8. Grade: D.

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