The best viewer for NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" will be both a People magazine subscriber and an armchair genealogist. Unfortunately for NBC, those may be mutually exclusive areas of interest.
A celeb-craving People reader might be bored dipping into a celebrity's past while an amateur genealogist may not care a whit about the celebrity in question while still getting involved in his and her "journey."
The concept of "Who Do You Think You Are?" (8 p.m. Friday, WPXI) is basically the same as PBS's "Face of America," hosted by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. Both examine the lineages of celebrities, only "Who Do You Think You Are?" does it with glossier production values while also padding its one-hour running time with those horrendous pre-commercial "coming up" previews and post-commercial "previously on" recaps.
Another way to think of whether or not NBC's new show is for you: Do you care to stick with a program that promises, as in one preview, "Coming up, Sarah Jessica Parker finds out if her ancestor was accused of being a witch!"
Ms. Parker is the first of seven celebrities to have a portion of their genealogy traced. Other celebs include Emmitt Smith (March 12), series executive producer Lisa Kudrow (March 19), Matthew Broderick (March 26), Brooke Shields (April 2), Susan Sarandon (April 9) and Spike Lee (April 23).
In Friday's premiere, Ms. Parker travels to several locations to get details on the history from her mother's side of the family. "WDYTYR" tries to build mysteries out of scraps of information: One relative is listed as dying in 1849 in an obituary in an Ohio newspaper, but he turns up alive in the 1850 census in El Dorado, Calif.
Much of the show is made up of either Ms. Parker's unscripted exclamations ("Wow, that's so crazy!" and "Un-be-lievable!") or declarations that sound completely scripted ("It's changed everything about who I thought I was!" and "I never felt I was really American").
The best moments are the little glimpses into Ms. Parker's personality and familial relationships. These are few and far between but it feels real when we see Ms. Parker joking with her brother or telling her mother she'll have to write down the newly uncovered family history because she's "the only one with legible handwriting."
Ultimately, the real question is not "Who Do You Think You Are?" but Why Should Viewers Care? This series does not offer a persuasive response.
TV editor Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published March 4, 2010 5:00 AM