Greatest American Dog



Airdate: 8-9 p.m. Thursday, July 10 (CBS).

Just in time for the dog days of summer, we get this reality show about dogs and their loyal human companions. A dozen of them compete for fun, doggie treats and, naturally, the obligatory $250,000 grand prize (or the equivalent in dog biscuits, presumably).

These unscripted shows have all grown almost indistinguishable from one another, including the trio of judges, the back-biting (in this case almost literally) and the challenges. To be sure, the Westminster Kennel Club is nowhere in sight for this dog show, and CBS’ “Greatest American Dog” turns out to be (surprise!) far more about the people than the canines. Created and exec produced by R.J. Cutler (“30 Days”), this series turns out to be far less than the sum of its parts, with the human egos far surpassing the stupid pet tricks in terms of relevance and screen time. And that’s wholly unfortunate.

A dozen dog-human teams square off to judge which dog can best follow instructions. It’s not really entirely clear what the criterion is for success here other than a capacity to impart silent cues to one’s animal. And the not-so-silent ones might be nearly as equally important. The judges include dog magazine/book authors and TV series hosts. But it’s the owners who are on center stage, make no mistake. And they turn out to be a predictably self-absorbed, if generally colorful, lot. They range from a Jewish doctor from Manhattan (with a Parson Russell Terrier named Elvis) to a building maintenance man from Flint, Texas (with a Brittany Spaniel named Star), to an aspiring dog salon owner from Portland, Ore. (with a Giant Schnauzer named Kenji).

“Dog” is kinda cute when it shows the dogs and owners in something approaching harmony while participating in challenges like Doggie Musical Chairs or performing tasks in the Best in Show Arena. But you know how it is with these things. The dopey music that accompanies everything puts an insipid spin on the whole enterprise -- I mean, more insipid, anyway -- and even as a summer diversion the whole enterprise feels tired and a bit forced. I mean, if you’re an American citizen and this is what you need to do for your 15 minutes of fame, let’s face it, it’s a little pathetic. If you’re a dog, well, it at least beats scavenging for scraps on the street.

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