The Next Great American Band



8-10 p.m., Friday, Oct. 19

Strictly from a mechanical point of view, there is about as much creativity in producing "The Next Great American Band" as there is in making an ice cube. Practically every detail of the series, which premiered Friday, came straight from the "American Idol" playbook, even down to the demeanor of the host and each of the three judges.

But what this show lacks in imagination it makes up for in casting. While "Band" mimics "Idol," it also surpasses it in virtually every respect. It has better judges, a better host, sharper storytelling and editing that is at least as smart.

As the title implies, the series aims to find the next bankable band through a process of weekly auditions and viewer voting. The premiere showed three days of tryouts that ended in the selection of a dozen finalists.

Judging took place before a makeshift stage on the shore of Lake Las Vegas with daytime temperatures reaching 110 degrees. Why fry contestants in the desert sun? Apparently, in exchange for promotional consideration by a resort casino. Thank heavens there wasn't a better offer from the Antarctic Marriott.

The show has a mean judge, a nurturing judge and an in-between judge. The mean judge, Ian "Dicko" Dickson, plays a similar role on the Australian version of "Idol." He told one group it was "as classy as a rat with a gold tooth." He called another band "middle-aged, loser time-wasters playing dress-up." At least you can see how he acquired his nickname.

The nurturing judge is drummer and band leader Sheila E., who has a natural empathy with fellow musicians. The judge in the temperamental middle is John Rzeznik (the first "z" is silent), guitarist and lead singer for Goo Goo Dolls.

Although Dickson is as direct and impatient as "Idol's" Simon Cowell, he is wittier and warmer. Sheila E. has a solid grasp of music talent as well as insight into a band's strong and weak points, as opposed to being the self-parody Paula Abdul has become. Rzeznik is more thoughtful than Randy Jackson, and nearly as gregarious.

Even host Dominic Bowden, who has similar duties on New Zealand's "Idol," is fresher and more at ease than his "American Idol" counterpart, Ryan Seacrest.

Casting had a good mix of legitimate contenders and bands selected for comic relief or human-interest stories. While the music industry is heavily niche-oriented, the judges wisely gave priority to bands with broad demographic appeal. Although the winner gets a contract with 19 Recordings, "Band" is a TV show first and a record label talent-hunt second.

The 12 finalists, an eclectic mix of big band, country, pop and soul groups, will perform again Oct. 26, with eliminations beginning Nov. 2.

19 Entertainment and FremantleMedia North America
Executive producers: Nigel Lithgoe, Ken Warwick, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Simon Fuller
Co-executive producer: Charles Boyd
Supervising producer: Ross Breitenbach
Senior producers: Michele Barnwell, Thom Oliphant
Producer: Mike Yurchuk
Director: John Pritchett
Creator: Simon Fuller
Production designer: Florian Wieder
Art director: James Yarnell
Ian "Dicko" Dickson, Sheila E., John Rzeznik
Dominic Bowden