America's Toughest Jobs



Airdate: 9-10 p.m. Monday, Aug. 25 (NBC)

What? You mean "TV critic" isn't considered one of America's toughest jobs? Well clearly, these people don't know what it's like to have to review "The Moment of Truth" and "The Littlest Groom."

Be that as it may, network TV audiences get a taste of what cable viewers have been lapping up with increasing fervor during the past couple of years as Thom Beers -- the man who virtually created the dangerous occupations reality genre via the likes of "Deadliest Catch" and "Ice Road Truckers" -- brings his unique brand of occupational hazard voyeurism to the broadcast world.

Of course, "America's Toughest Jobs" has been fully homogenized and networkized to appeal to a more mainstream crowd, meaning it has successfully neutered one of the few unscripted genres with genuine grit and originality and made it look, sound and feel like every other "Survivor" knockoff. Because Beers is on hand here, it seems he's agreed to neuter himself.

This doesn't mean that the original hour is exactly an embarrassment, merely a formulaic sellout to the gods of programming uniformity. The conceit here is to take the usual 13 untested civilian men and women from "all walks of life" and have them compete in a series of challenges involving perilous professions requiring guts, stamina and, of course, plenty of griping and clashing.

The music sounds rather like a carbon copy of every other swelling action, momentum-stoking soundtrack. At the end of each episode, at least one of these rank amateurs is sent packing with tears, hugs and heartache.

Sound familiar? It should. Nobody has to eat barbecued rats, but biting the head off a fish is part of the deal early on. Oh, you're allergic to sushi? It can cause you a deathly reaction? So sorry. Do it anyway.

First up for these intrepid adventurers is fishing on a crab boat in the Bering Sea, no huge surprise given the success Beers has had with his hugely popular "Dangerous Catch" on Discovery Channel. There's lots of seasickness-inspired vomiting and labor-intensive efforts to get those steel crab-catching cages into the water. But mostly there's people opening questioning their own sanity in being there. (Just a wild guess, but it probably has something to do with the TV cameras.)

The gambit also has the annual salary of whatever occupation they're all attempting tossed into a pot until the finale, when one of the raw rookies will win the whole thing -- like landing on Free Parking in Monopoly, except without the parking.

In the coming weeks, we'll see these folks attempt everything from bullfighting to logging to mountain rescue to oil rigging to monster trucking. We can only imagine the waiver form they each had to sign just to participate, if the crew sheet is any indication.

Yes, the "America's Toughest Jobs" staff lists not only a doctor but also a psychologist and a company whose duties are summed up in a single word: "Risk." Not that the format itself is particularly risky. Primetime real estate is far too valuable for there to be much of that.

Production: Original Prods. and BermanBraun. Host: Josh Temple. Executive producers: Thom Beers, Gail Berman, Lloyd Braun. Producers: Bryan O'Donnell, Barry Hennessey, Devon Platte. Challenge producer: Scott Paskoff. Senior story producer: Cynthia Palormo. Director of photography: Doug Stanley. Production designer: Narbeh<cq> Nazarian. Senior casting director: Rebecca Reczek.