Grease: You're the One That I Want

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8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 7
NBC

Finding the male and female lead for a Broadway revival of the musical "Grease" is easy compared to the greater challenge facing NBC and the producers of "Grease: You're the One That I Want." They've got to figure out a way to make this talent contest look fresh, new and different from "American Idol" and all the "Idol" worshipers that try to imitate its success.

Judging from Sunday's 90-minute premiere, a highlight and lowlight reel from auditions in Los Angeles and Chicago, this BBC Worldwide production wasn't able to elevate the series from what is by now the most tired and unimaginative format on television.

Although the judges (director Kathleen Marshall, producer David Ian and "Grease" co-creator Jim Jacobs) and co-hosts (Billy Bush and Denise Van Outen) are pleasant enough, there's more than a little deception in the show and its premise. People who could only play these roles with the aid of funhouse mirrors are not only allowed to audition but even passed along to a second level, where elimination is inevitable.

Then there is the supposed big risk of casting Broadway starring roles by viewer voting. In reality, the multistep elimination process that occurs before a single vote is recorded guarantees a field of talented finalists. What's more, the enormous publicity the series will generate before the curtain goes up makes the endeavor a can't-lose proposition. Well, maybe not for viewers. They've got to sit through the same teases before the endless commercial breaks and hear the same musical numbers over and over. Finals can't come soon enough at Rydell High.

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