EmptyAirdate: 9:30-11 p.m. Wednesday, June 11 (NBC).
The entire time I was watching NBC's "Celebrity Circus," I could barely pay attention to the action onscreen because I was so concerned about making sure I watched the season premiere on NBC of "America's Got Talent" at 9 p.m. Tuesday. Perhaps this obsession stemmed from the fact that there wasn't a moment Wednesday night when that little reminder wasn't positioned at bottom left, along with several other additional promo pushes throughout the 90 minutes. Is this now standard procedure at NBC that a show is simply a means of delivering a hard sell for a future show? It struck me as incredibly annoying, nearly as much as was the opener of this summer series, which might best be described as Cirque du Soleil on steroids (and, occasionally, acid).
"Circus" is of course an updating of the old 1970s-'80s chestnut "Circus of the Stars" that brought in such people as Ed Asner, David Janssen, Rue McClanahan, Jean Stapleton and Janet Leigh to ride elephants and crack a whip at a tiger. It was, in the best sense of the term, kitsch. This exercise by contrast is way more Cirque than Ringling Bros. In fact, no animals were harmed (or in fact used) in the production, nor presumably will they be as this summer exercise moves along. The problem isn't so much in the execution of the stunts, which range from semi-impressive to borderline spectacular; it's the idea that every performance on TV these days has to be transformed into some lame, warmed-over version of "American Idol" cum "Dancing With the Stars" -- replete with dopey judges who spend their 15 minutes chewing up the scenery.
That's pretty much what we get along with a shameless stretching of the term "celebrity." Stacey Dash? Christopher Knight? Olympic swimmer Janet Evans? Wee Man of "Jackass" fame? Yeah, well, these days there aren't a lot of celebs left to go around, the available pool having obviously been stretched to the breaking point by their being so in demand to portray celebrities in reality shows. And so this "Circus" gets the C-list, which means Knight walking a high wire, Wee Man traversing the "Wheel of Death" and a shirtless Antonio Sabato Jr. flying around on what might best be described as living-room drapery. We get up-close-and-personal glimpses of the training regimen leading to the Big Moment, preceded and followed by a trying-way-too-hard host Joey Fatone.
The judges include Olympic gold medal gymnast Mitch Gaylord (the nice one) and somebody named Aurelia Cats. The death-defying aspect of this is nothing if not intriguing, as even one-time supermodel Rachel Hunter performs in a shimmering suit on a high wire without a net. None of this can be easy to perform with the chaotic music and lights and screaming fans, not to mention the presence of the superannoying Fatone. So hat's off to one and all for their calm under pressure.
Production: Endemol USA. Host: Joey Fatone. Cast: Antonio Sabato Jr., Blu Cantrell, Christopher Knight, Janet Evans, Wee Man, Rachel Hunter, Stacey Dash. Producer: Don Harary. Director: Alan Carter. Executive Producer: Matt Kunitz. Co-Executive Producer: Rick Ringbakk. Supervising Producer: Michael Brooks. Coordinating Producer: Tom Boles. Associate Producer: Rich Leist. Casting: Suzanne Bender. Editor: Tom Mushcamp.