BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- It's a real-life "Glee." Or maybe "Smash: Junior Edition."
PBS's three-part "Broadway or Bust" (8 p.m. Sunday, WQED-TV) is an upbeat docu-series that's filled with music and wide-eyed, appreciative teens who can't help but gush (and gush and gush some more) about their competitors and being in New York as finalists at the National High School Musical Theater Awards (aka "the Jimmy Awards").
The students' gushing is no doubt genuine, but "Broadway or Bust" could benefit from some judicious editing. That repetition is the only real drawback to the show. Otherwise, it's an entertaining hour of watching the teenagers rehearse in groups, perform solos and, in one instance, grow wide-eyed when Michael Fienstein shows up to accompany one student on camera.
The contestants' goal: To prepare a one-night-only show that's staged at Broadway's Minskoff Theatre, currently home to "The Lion King," and perhaps be named best actor or actress at the Jimmy Awards.
- When: On WQED three consecutive Sundays: Sept. 9, 16 and 23.
For Pittsburghers, "Broadway or Bust" is especially noteworthy. The show is a co-production of WGBH Boston and writer/director/co-producer Lance K. Shultz in association with the National High School Musical Theater Awards, which was founded in 2009 by Pittsburgh CLO and Nederlander Alliances LLC.
Pittsburgh CLO executive producer Van Kaplan is the Tim Gunn of "Broadway or Bust," offering tips and encouraging the contestants along the way.
"This is a different kind of television program," Mr. Kaplan said in July during a break from rehearsing with students who performed at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. "It's really about celebrating these kids and their journey rather than 'Jersey Shore' and some of those programs. We always thought [the awards] belonged on television, but that wasn't really our goal."
Kiesha Lalama, a native of Center, Beaver County, who is an assistant professor in the Point Park University dance department and education director for the Pittsburgh CLO, serves as Jimmy Awards choreographer.
"I just want it to bring some more awareness of how we have to pay more attention to the arts and focus our energies in creating strong, self-assured children," Ms. Lalama said of "Broadway or Bust." "I feel like the fine arts do that. It helps define them and shape them. Without the arts they become almost robotic. It helps them become individuals."
Former "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" music director Michael Moricz shows up in Sunday's premiere, and a trailer for the series shows Post-Gazette senior theater critic Christopher Rawson in his role as judicial administrator for the awards.
And then there are the teenage competitors -- four of them from Western Pennsylvania. Nathan Pool and Brooke Tate, both of Avonworth High School, came through Pittsburgh's Gene Kelly Awards. Erica Durham (Central Valley High School) and Ryan Vander Wagen (Hopewell Area High School) went on to the national competition after the Henry Mancini Musical Theatre Awards, which recognizes the stage work of students in Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties. (Ms. Durham received a $2,500 scholarship from the Barry and Fran Weissler Foundation for her achievements at the 2012 Jimmy Awards).
Ms. Tate, who is the Pittsburgher featured most prominently in Sunday's premiere, said participating in the Jimmy Awards in New York was a life-changing experience. She had been planning to study psychology at Clarion University but changed to study theater at Point Park University, where she is currently a freshman.
"I got to perform on stage at the Minskoff," Ms. Tate said, still sounding amazed months later. "I knew that I belonged in theater."
For a group that doesn't use electricity, the Amish sure do show up on TV a lot. The latest look-at-them program is TLC's "Breaking Amish" (10 p.m. Sunday), which appears to be a re-do of the 2004 UPN series "Amish in the City" but with less "Jersey Shore"-esque partying.
Two of the cast members -- Rebecca and Abe -- come from an Amish community near Punxsutawney, but TLC refuses to divulge cast members' full names, citing privacy concerns, which is absurd because they're putting them on TV.
Abe brings cameras into his house to meet his family, who look uncomfortable and sullen. Abe's mother says he can't come home for dinner again because "you're gonna be shunned. ... You're gonna be just like an outcast." Why this Amish family would allow themselves to be filmed, something the Amish typically avoid, is unclear.
Another character, Kate, a bishop's daughter from Lancaster, dreams of being a fashion model. Her father kicks her out of the house when he learns she's being filmed. She briefly moves to Florida, gets a driver's license and promptly gets charged with DUI.
These 20something Amish only leave for New York at the end of Sunday's season premiere, so it's not yet clear how much debauchery will ensue. But watching previews for future episodes, I can't help but feel like the enticement of starring on a reality show may ruin these folks' lives.
Here's a show title designed to get viewers' attention: "I Was Impaled" debuts at 10 p.m. Saturday on Discovery Fit & Health.
"From fence posts and french fries to surfboards and garden shears, 'I Was Impaled' reveals the stories of people from around the world who have accidentally ended up with foreign objects in their body," trumpets the network press release. "Each story is vividly brought to life by cutting-edge animation -- from the horrifying moment of when the injury occurs, to the euphoria of removing the object."
Saturday's premiere episode is titled -- and I am not making this up -- "Don't Pull It Out!" and it features the stories of a woman impaled on a 5-inch iron spike railing, a man whose esophagus is ripped by a french fry and a gardener who falls face-first onto his pruning shears.
Discovery Fit & Health is carried on Comcast (104 in traditional systems, 130 in former Adelphia systems), Verizon's FiOS TV (163), Armstrong (444) and DirecTV (Channel 261). It is not carried on DISH Network.
The Post-Gazette's annual preview of the broadcast network's new fall shows -- and premiere dates for returning series -- will publish this Sunday in TV Week.
Please note: After TV Week was published, NBC added a preview of "The New Normal" at 10 p.m. Monday; the show's time slot premiere remains 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.
As viewers gear up for the new TV season this month, I'll offer a PGU course called TV 101, 7-9 p.m. Oct. 3 at the Post-Gazette office at 34 Blvd. of the Allies. We'll discuss how TV shows get developed, why shows are put on the air, why they're canceled and how the TV business works generally. We'll watch clips from shows that have been retooled, and of course there will be time for a live TV Q&A session.
The cost is $35 and you can register online at http://old.post-gazette.com/PGU/ or by calling 412-263-1302.
As expected, TBS has renewed Pittsburgh-set barroom sitcom "Sullivan & Son" for a second season to air next summer. The show's first season is averaging 2.5 million viewers per episode.
Fox ordered a second season of Gordon Ramsay's "Hotel Hell," and Bravo ordered a sophomore edition of "It's a Brad, Brad World" and a fifth season of "The Rachel Zoe Project."
Syfy wants 20 episodes for the third season of "Paranormal Witness" to air in June 2013, and the third season of The Hub's "Family Game Night" is set to premiere at 7 p.m. Sept. 23.
ABC's "Wipeout" will hit the 100-episode mark in its upcoming sixth season, which will air during the 2012-13 TV season.
A&E's "Duck Dynasty" is back for its second season Oct. 10 with episodes at 10 and 10:30 p.m.
CBS is developing a TV series spinoff of "Beverly Hills Cop" starring the son of Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) as a cop who is transplanted from Detroit to Beverly Hills, according to Variety. Mr. Murphy executive produces with Shawn Ryan ("The Shield") and will appear as Axel in the pilot episode. ... Seth MacFarlane will host the Sept. 15 season premiere of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" with musical guest Frank Ocean. Joseph Gordon-Levitt hosts on Sept. 22 with Mumford & Sons; Daniel Craig hosts on Oct. 6 with Muse. ... NBC's "The Biggest Loser" returns in January with Jillian Michaels returning to the reality show. ... Pittsburgh native and 1972 Mt. Lebanon High School grad Debra Levine, a dance critic who blogs at artsmeme.com, will co-host "Choreography by Jack Cole" on Turner Classic Movies (8 p.m. Monday). Ms. Levine joins host Robert Osbourne to provide commentary on dance in several films, including 1952's "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (11:45 p.m. Monday) and 1951's "On the Riviera" (10 p.m. Monday). ... Nielsen has released its 2012-13 TV market ranks and Pittsburgh stays put as the 23rd largest market nationwide even as the number of homes with TVs falls from 1,171,490 to 1,165,740.
Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions "Suits," "Intervention" and ReelzChannel on Comcast. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts about "Bomb Girls," "Dragons: Riders of Berk," "Star Trek" and A&E's "Coma." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.
This week's podcast includes conversation about TBS's "Sullivan & Son," BBC America's "Dr. Who" and networks making series premieres available on demand before they debut on television. Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.tvradio - highschoolmusicals
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news. First Published September 7, 2012 4:00 AM