Tuned In: Rich-poor contest livens up 'Survival'
Share with others:
Don't go expecting too much, but I'm about to label The WB's "Survival of the Richest" (8 tonight, WCWB) the "Upstairs, Downstairs" of American reality shows. Don't take that to mean this is a classy rich-poor saga for PBS devotees (it's not), but the series does explore in a shallow but highly entertaining way the differences between the haves and the have-nots.The WB/Greg Schwartz
Elizabeth Lewis from "Survival of the Richest"
Click photo for larger image.
PBS already aired its own reality version of '70s classic "Upstairs, Downstairs" in 2003 with British import "Manor House"; "Survival of the Richest" is an American incarnation with "Survivor"-style competitions and more instantly detestable contestants.
In the continuing celebration of the American dream and the puritan work ethic, it's the poor kids who are initially cast as the heroes and the rich kids who play the villains. That they play the Snidely Whiplash and Veruca Salt roles so well -- well, they have only themselves to blame.
The concept is simple and follows the reality subgenre The WB has carved out: the opposites-repel-and-then-learn-a-valuable-lesson-from-one-another cliche that's on display in "Beauty and the Geek" (hot dumb girls paired with smart nerdy guys) and the upcoming series "Fountain of Youth" (elderly contestants paired with young whipper-snappers).
In "Survival of the Richest," seven wealthy twentysomethings are paired with seven poor, indebted peers and compete in various low-paying McJobs. In tonight's premiere, they have to work at a medieval-themed restaurant, which adds a nice tacky factor that gives the rich kids even more to sneer at.
Former Pittsburgher Elizabeth Lewis, identified as the "Yellow Pages heiress," whose family worth is more than $1 billion, is among the Richie Rich competitors. (Lewis grew up in Fox Chapel until age 10, then moved to Florida. Her father, Robert J. Lewis, still has a home in the area.)
"What annoys me most about people who don't have money is their manners," she says in tonight's premiere. "They don't know anything about shopping or how to act in public. It's disgusting sometimes."
She says her parents think she's lazy, and she's participating in the show to prove them wrong. In episode two she does get props from one of the poor kids who's surprised at her hard work cleaning a public restroom.
Elizabeth is prone to Paris Hilton-like "That's Hot"-isms, and she washes her hair with Evian water, but the rich guys come across worse.
"Usually I like to make waitresses cry, and then when they get to that point, I sleep with them," says Hunter, who also describes himself as "the total package."
Are these silver spoon kids really that obnoxious, or were these sound bites coaxed out of them by crafty producers? Who knows.
Not everyone plays along with the stereotypes. Rich girl Cat doesn't like all the money talk and feels ostracized by her wealthy peers. Poor, flamboyant Michael is obnoxious and insufferable in his own way.
Although the series hypocritically and formulaically exploits stereotypes before proving some of them wrong, "Survival of the Richest" is rich in entertainment value in spite of itself.
Behind the scenes on 'Smith'
I did some more snooping around on the set of the CBS pilot "Smith" last weekend and ran into actor Simon Baker, one of the stars of the proposed series.
Baker, who starred for three years in the Pittsburgh-set legal drama "The Guardian," said it was "weird" to be back in Pittsburgh, staying in the same hotel and working with the same local crew as he did during the "Guardian" days.
In "Smith," Baker plays one of the thieves in a gang led by Ray Liotta. In the pilot, the crew steals art from the fictitious Tanner Museum in Pittsburgh. Mellon Institute in Oakland played the Tanner in scenes shot on Fifth Avenue Sunday. Never have more people clogged that sidewalk than when the production hired dozens of extras to walk along it take after take.
While "The Guardian" was meticulous in its faithfulness to Pittsburgh geography, "Smith" will not be. Actress Amy Smart stumbled into an alley along Liberty Avenue in a scene shot last week and then emerged from the other end of the alley, after apparently passing through a wormhole, on Fifth Avenue in Oakland. I'm sure it will work fine on screen, leaving only Pittsburghers with a knack for local geography confused.
Last Friday night, I joined a dozen other onlookers to see police cars race down the 10th Street Bypass, chasing a cigarette boat on the nearby Allegheny River. Cameras in a helicopter above and on another boat on the river captured the action, including fireballs around a delivery truck the thieves left on the 10th Street Bypass. It was rigged to explode, causing a diversion intended to allow the thieves an escape. I didn't stay for the explosion but heard the truck blew up quite impressively around 11:50 p.m.
CBS will announce its fall schedule, and whether or not "Smith" makes the cut, in May.
Some love for 'Monkey'
Those unaired episodes of CBS's canceled "Love Monkey" will see the light of day on VH1. Three previously aired episodes will repeat back-to-back April 11 starting at 7 p.m. The remaining episodes will air weekly (9 p.m. Tuesday) starting April 18.
NBC shows on demand
Following in the footsteps of CBS, NBC Universal has struck a deal with Comcast to make some of its series available via Comcast's On Demand service beginning in May. Like CBS's, the NBC shows ("Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," "Las Vegas" and "Conviction") will be available for 99 cents each in markets with NBC-owned stations. Pittsburgh is not one of those markets.
Shows from the company's cable networks (Sci Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica," USA's "Monk," Bravo's "Celebrity Poker Showdown") will be available on demand in all Comcast markets, including Pittsburgh, at no additional charge.
Beginning next week, Comcast will move Bravo to Channel 175 and Ovation to Channel 176. In addition, two new movie channels will be added to the digital plus tier: Indieplex at Channel 167 and Retroplex at Channel 168.
Through Jan. 31, WQED Multimedia was $236,564 below break-even for the fiscal year, but that position improved by the end of February to $166,000 below break-even, which is in line with the company's budget projections.
In its March pledge period, WQED-TV's "Patrizio Buanne: The Italian" raised the most money of any pledge special, $74,635, while Rick Sebak's "What Makes Pittsburgh Pittsburgh?" brought in $22,828.
WQED president George Miles said "The War That Made America" came in just under budget. He'll meet with funders in the next few weeks to discuss how the program's leftover funding should be spent. "War" executive producer Deborah Acklin said attempts to sell the show in foreign markets will likely begin by the end of the year.
Upcoming WQED programs include "Friends of Danang," the working title of a July program that follows "Black Horizons" host Chris Moore and two other veterans back to Vietnam. Sebak's next national special, "To Market to Market to Buy a Fat Pig," will air in spring 2007; a Sebak local special is expected in December (the topic has yet to be determined).
Time to vote!
It's time again to give a rave or pan to prime-time TV series broadcast during the 2005-06 TV season in the Post-Gazette's annual Keep or Cancel? poll, which now includes series on 10 cable networks.
To cast your ballot, visit the paper's Web site at www.post-gazette.com/tv. If you don't have a computer, you can vote using one at your local library or send me a letter -- NO PHONE CALLS, NO E-MAIL -- with your choices. Only one ballot will be cast per letter received.
Obviously, this is not a scientific study (please don't vote more than once), and it's not entirely realistic, either. There's no way some shows -- NBC's "Inconceivable," Fox's "Kitchen Confidential" -- will return. Readers' Remote is a chance to make your preferences known. Votes will be tallied on the Web through April 23, and the results will be published in this column in late April or early May. Results also will be sent to the entertainment presidents of each of the six broadcast networks.
This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about the singer on "Love Monkey," "Sons & Daughters" and "DateNight TV." Read it online only at www.post-gazette.com/tv.
First Published March 31, 2006 12:00 am