January 18, 2006

Celebrity ‘Skating’ offers pre-Olympic fun

By Erik Pedersen

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Despite obviously
following in the dance steps of a certain summer hit on a rival
network, Fox's lazily titled "Skating With Celebrities" is an
inspired idea for a competition show. And with the spectacle of
Olympic skating mere weeks away, the timing is perfect for this
seven-episode limited series.

The most surprising thing is the emphasis on fun and
enjoyment rather than the tension played up on so many reality
programs -- or even the real thing. Champion figure skaters are
well known for their dire competitiveness and their
understandable bitterness over having to accept judges'
subjective opinions. Is there any better reality TV than
watching world-class skaters squirm on camera while awaiting
then digesting their scores?

Those moments, of course, are a big part of "Skating With
Celebrities," but with a stunningly supportive crowd and mostly
benign judging, the focus is amusement as opposed to "Amazing
Race"-type confrontation between teammates or "American
Idol"-like humiliation. And it works. Expect eye-catching
ratings and a return performance.

The six-team competition pairs champion skaters with
lower-rung celebrities, and the teams are judged on artistic
impression and technical merit. Each episode will introduce a
tougher mandatory skill move that the teams must work into
their routines. Beginning with Night 2, the pair with the
lowest cumulative score is voted off the rink.

As for the skaters, their performances in the premiere
range from not bad for a beginner to rather impressive. No one
truly embarrasses themselves, but some take it more seriously
than others. And chemistry between the pairs, or marked lack
thereof, very much reflects in their performances.

There are sentimental favorites, including fiftysomething
Bruce Jenner and teammate Tai Babilonia, and those who'll leave
viewers hoping for a nasty spill, like the annoying Jillian
Barberie, who is paired with telegenic skater-model John
Zimmerman. Probably the most mismatched team is Nancy Kerrigan
and lifelong hockey player Dave Coulier. It's easy to see the
strain between these two: He looks like he'd love to hip-check
her into the boards, and behind the faked smile on Kerrigan's
face, one can almost see her thinking what she said during that
Disneyland parade after the '94 Olympics: "This is so corny.
This is so dumb." Even though it's really not.

The judges are swiped from the "American Idol" template.
John Hicks, an English-accented skating coach, plays the Simon
Fuller villain role, but his mildly abusive comments are high
praise compared with Fuller's beat-downs. Then there's Dorothy
Hamill in the fawning Paula Abdul role, generally heaping kudos
and sometimes offering gentle criticism. She gets in the best
line of the first two episodes when she asks Hicks, "Are you
Russian?" Skating mag publisher Mark Lund offers little
onscreen personality but refrains from calling the skaters

One irritating aspect of "Skating With Celebrities" is that
the judges' scores often don't reflect what they say. Hicks
chides one team about displaying "no artistry," then proceeds
to give them a solid 8.1 for artistic impression. There are
plenty of such contradictions from the panel, but they clearly
are instructed to keep their scores in a narrow range so the
competition remains close enough for the weekly elimination to
be in question.

Combine the legions of figure skating fans with those who
were swept off their feet by "Dancing With the Stars," and all
signs point to a breakout hit. The first hour premieres
Wednesday, then the series shifts to its regular Monday 8 p.m.

Competitors: Tai Babilonia, Jillian Barberie, Todd Bridges,
Kurt Browning, Dave Coulier, Lloyd Eisler, Deborah Gibson,
Bruce Jenner, Nancy Kerrigan, Jenni Meno, Kristy Swanson, John

Co-hosts: Scott Hamilton, Summer Sanders.

Executive producers: Arthur Smith, Kent Weed; Co-executive
producer: Rob Dustin; Supervising producer: Sean Atkins;
Writers: Arthur Smith, Michael X. Ferraro; Director: Kent Weed;
Consulting producer: Scott Hamilton; Producers: Terry Coyle,
Teri Kennedy; Editors: Roger Bartlett, Dave Basinski, Chad
Dickman, Bryan M. Horne, Marc Markley, Rick Weis. (Skating With
Celebrities, 8-9 p.m., Fox)

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter