My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad



9-10 p.m., Monday, Feb. 18

There are a lot of words you can use to describe reality-style competitions on TV, but until the broadcast of NBC's "My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad" on Monday night, "wholesome" was not among them. There is more good sportsmanship in this series than you'll find on a half-dozen peewee soccer fields.

But good manners comes with a price, which in this case is a show that is dull and cloyingly cute. And also cheap. Last night's winning father-son combination came away with $20,000, a bicycle and a video game console, which is small potatoes for an hour of primetime. The top prize, if anyone can attain it, is a relatively trifling $50,000. Contrast that with the $458,000 won by the contestant on "Deal or No Deal" in the previous hour.

At the start of each episode, there are four father-son or father-daughter teams. Contests, challenges and quizzes eliminate three of them. In one event, dads broke up a desk with a sledge hammer. In another round, they swing their kids, suspended with straps, to plant Velcro darts on a bull's-eye.

There's an elimination round with a multiple-choice quiz that's heavy on pop culture and sports. And a final round in which one dad aims an air cannon at garage-door windows with various point values while the other dad plays garage-door goalie. Very imaginative but not very exciting.

The producers know it, too. Sometimes, to add to the suspense, producers stop showing the score of a contestant in the middle of a competitive round. Then, after the round is completed, host Dan Cortese makes a big show of revealing who won. This bit of intentional manipulation -- not unlike the partial ballot revelations during the tribal vote on "Survivor" -- is more annoying than thrilling.

Before and after each round, seemingly every minute or so, one of the kids proclaims their love for Dad or vice versa. It's awfully charming at first, but after a while, it's enough to gag a greeting-card writer.

Careful casting ensures the selection of cute, well-spoken, energetic kids who cheer their dads with entirely appropriate vocabulary. Moms in the audience are miked to allow their shouts of encouragement to be edited into the show.

If, at the end, you find yourself wondering how this kinder, gentler version of "American Gladiators" found its way to NBC, stick around long enough to note that it comes from Reveille and Mark Burnett Prods., entities that carry a lot of weight, particularly at the Peacock network.

With "Deal or No Deal" for a lead-in, sampling should not be a problem. Retention, however, is another story.

Reveille, Mark Burnett Prods. and Hotchkiss Industries
Executive producers: Mark Burnett, Mark Koops, Howard T. Owens, Mike Nichols, Jon Hotchkiss
Creator: Jon Hotchkiss
Co-executive producer: Jim Roush, Jared Tobman
Director: Michael Simon
Host: Dan Cortese