The Singing Bee; Don't Forget the Lyrics



9:30 p.m. Tuesdays

9:30 p.m. Wednesdays

On back-to-back nights, NBC and Fox launched competing versions of karaoke game shows. Both of them begin by telling the name of the song. Then, midway through the number, they challenge contestants to sing the exact lyrics, as performed by the artist or group that made it a hit.

NBC announced its show first. Fox, being Fox, then came up with its own version and an airdate well ahead of the one planned by NBC. The peacock made the next move, rushing to beat Fox by one day.

So which show will be music to your ears? It's hard to be enamored with either of these overproduced series, but NBC's "The Singing Bee" is considerably more lively and less obviously manipulative than Fox's "Don't Forget the Lyrics," an unapologetic rip-off of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

"Bee," which premiered Tuesday and is hosted by former 'N Sync member Joey Fatone, calls down six contestants. One by one, five are eliminated. The Singing Bee Champ then gets a chance to win the top prize of $50,000. It's not a huge amount as primetime game shows go, but it isn't prohibitively hard to win. "Lyrics," which started Wednesday night, offers a top prize of $1 million, but in the opener, the contestant managed only to reach $25,000.

"Lyrics" host Wayne Brady deals with just one contestant at a time, but not just any contestant. Each is a graduate of the "Deal or No Deal" school of manic exuberance and has been thoroughly prepped in the ways of unnatural enthusiasm.

As with "Millionaire," the lyrics get tougher as the prize money increases. Also, a player who is stumped can use up to three different types of clues. Beyond that, even the lights, set design and tension music all are "Millionaire" leftovers.

While "Bee" action buzzes along amid perpetual standing and cheering by the studio audience, you can wait longer than "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida" for a "Lyrics" contestant to "lock in" an answer.

"Bee" greets viewers with a set of splashy colors, a house band, house singers and house dancers. It's all very hokey, but there's also something lively and real about it.

Brady is hipper, looser and funnier than the blandly encouraging Fatone, but "Lyrics" has more to do with rehearsing the contestant and creating artificial suspense than playing a musical game. While contestants sing, dance, smile and gush on "Lyrics," they actually play a game on "Bee."