During the past decade that reality competitions have come to prominence in prime time, networks have tried to launch murder mysteries without much success. The best one, creatively, was probably Fox's 2001 effort, "Murder in Small Town X."
These shows often suffer from the same challenge: It's fun to play Clue but boring to watch other people play the classic board game. Yet that's basically what these shows ask viewers to do.
ABC's latest effort, "Whodunnit?" (9 tonight, WTAE-TV), is far less creative than the ambitious "Murder in Small Town X." The 13 "Whodunnit?" contestants are confined to a "Bachelor"-style house where they take marching orders from the butler, Giles, (Gildart Jackson, pictured, right) who acts as an intermediary for the killer, who is one of the contestants.
A player "dies" early in the premiere and the remaining house guests work to solve her murder. Each player presents his or her theory to an empty room that the killer is monitoring and afterwards the killer marks each player "spared" or "scared." Two "scared" players are marked by the end of the episode and then one of them "dies" in the final moments, presumably setting up a murder mystery to be solved next week. The show's ultimate winner pockets $250,000.
While "Murder in Small Town X" intermingled actors with contestants, giving it a dramatic quality, "Whodunnit?" asks its contestants to become actors when they are chosen to be killed off, which gives this show a cheesy vibe that's accentuated by contestants screaming at the top of their lungs when they find a body that they obviously know is just someone playing dead.
Add in pacing problems and reality show cliches -- editors should know by now to cut any scene where a contestant says "I'm not here to make friends" -- and "Whodunnit?" may prompt a big "Who cares?" from discerning viewers.