Clash of the Choirs



8-10 p.m. Monday, Dec. 17

So it has come to this, and given how discussions are proceeding in the writers strike, we had best get used to it.

NBC's "Clash of the Choirs" is a feel-good reality exercise for a feel-bad season (in Hollywood, anyway), a four-night "event" (airing Monday-Thursday) that one might describe as "American Idol" minus the edge meets a Mitt Romney fundraiser.

It presents performances by groups of amateur singers, organized by celebrity crooners, that are at once joyfully spirited and hyperkinetic, with everyone appearing to have been handed a couple of shots of triple espresso before taking the stage. Only a Scrooge would bash such a sweet and upbeat undertaking where the winning team gets to donate $250,000 to a worthy charity -- but here goes: With no true tension or soap opera elements injected into the mix, it feels simply dull and repetitive, rather like a high school pep rally that refuses to end. The only actual "clashing" of these choirs is in their clothing. I mean, for the love of God, can't someone hit on somebody's boyfriend or something?

Designed as the prototypical heartwarming holiday extravaganza, the two-hour "Clash of the Choirs" premiere Monday night -- kicking off the six-hour, four-night miniseries live from New York -- showcased each of five celeb choirmasters as they put together 20-person choirs in their respective hometowns. There was Nick Lachey doing Cincinnati, former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland recruiting in Houston, Michael Bolton assembling his clan in New Haven, Conn., country star Blake Shelton back in Oklahoma City and Patti LaBelle in Philadelphia. Each is seen weeding through contenders and pretenders, "Idol"-style, though notably without the sarcasm and wisecracks of Simon Cowell because there are no judges here. That's right: none. You don't know how much you miss mean-spirited jabs aimed at warbling wannabes until they suddenly aren't there.

During the pretaped tryouts of everyday folks, inspiring personal glimpses get injected into the mix, like the father and daughter whose wife/mother is fighting breast cancer, the displaced Hurricane Katrina victim singing the Destiny's Child tune "Survivor" to Rowland and the 77-year-old lady who makes it onto "Team Bolton." Each of the groups then performs a pop tune or holiday classic on a stage so packed with flashing lights and beaming strobes that it could qualify as an anti-global warming rallying point. The organizer stands just offstage bounding excitedly and mouthing the words like the proud parent he/she is. The vote-offs are done by viewers at home via phone call, text message or Internet, and everyone is allowed to vote as many as 10 times apiece -- though anyone who does clearly has some serious problems filling up their evenings.

NBC obviously is hoping that a show we might call "Singing for the Stars" catches on like "Dancing With the Stars," rolling it out in a similar launch pattern to its gambit with "Deal or No Deal" back in 2005. It's based on a format by the Scandinavian company Friday TV because, well, you didn't think one of our broadcast networks could create a reality concept from scratch, did you? Not that "Clash of the Choirs" feels all that original, anyway, with a host in Maria Menounos who is so bland she makes Ryan Seacrest seem like a master of spontaneity. Fortunately for NBC, the success yardstick has grown decidedly shorter of late. You get the feeling the network would be pleased simply to draw ratings sufficient to arrest the disturbing new trend of returning money to sponsors for audience shortfalls.

To that end, one of the nets might want to consider fast-tracking something with greater natural conflict like, say, "Clash of the Strike Negotiators." The only problem there is, they'd all leave halfway through the show.

BBC Worldwide Americas
Executive producers: Paul Telegdy, Jason Raff, Suzy Lamb
Co-executive producer: Linda Giambrone
Supervising producers: Melanie Balac, Nikki Boella
Director: Alan Carter
Director-reality: Jason Raff
Talent consultants: Tisha Fein, Steven Schillaci
Supervising casting producer: Scott Salyers
Music director: Nigel Wright
Director of photography: Guido Frenzel
Editors: Peter Skuts, Hans Van Riet, Paul Venus, Avi Youabian, Dan Zimmerman
Celebrity choir masters: Patti LaBelle, Michael Bolton, Kelly Rowland, Nick Lachey, Blake Shelton
Host: Maria Menounos