School Pride -- TV Review

This school-based reality series feels good even as it papers over the truth about education.

Feel-good reality could hardly be warmer and fuzzier than it is on hug-inducing, tearful "School Pride," the education-focused equivalent of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

If only producers Cheryl Hines and Denise Cramsey could have stopped right there. Just stopped and fixed the school and then, maybe, closed with an assembly and a round of "Kumbaya."

But no. Not content to merrily manipulate emotions of students and teachers with fresh paint and computers, the show also pretends to investigate what's wrong with education today and who's to blame. That's an incredibly complicated subject for a show that deals largely in symbolic gestures. So instead of anything approaching a reasoned answer, we get simplistic finger-pointing and mumbo jumbo about community power.

Every week for seven weeks, the "School Pride" team visits a public school that, for one reason or another, is in dire need of repair and remodeling. Each member of the "Pride" team -- former Miss USA Susie Castillo, teacher-turned-comedian Kym Whitley, political journalist Jacob Soboroff and self-described leader and "SWAT commander" Tom Stroup -- pairs off with a teacher or a student with highly functioning tear glands. Meanwhile, dozens and dozens of volunteers descend on the school to lend a hand with packing, unpacking and painting.

The first stop is Enterprise Middle School in Compton, Calif., where this week the school board fired the superintendent for making $14,000 in personal charges on her district credit card. Not only was the school poorly maintained, but it had been repeatedly vandalized, presumably by former students.

For no reason in particular, the "Pride" team gives itself 10 days to fix everything. (In subsequent episodes, the time is shortened to seven days.) Can any group of volunteers meet that deadline? No need to worry, though, because as every reality-series viewer knows that no good deed goes unsponsored.

Even as the team blathers about community power to rejuvenate the building, the camera focuses on logo after logo of sponsors who donated building material, school supplies, construction equipment, furniture, cabinets and construction expertise to make it all possible. Then, in the final 10 minutes of this highly formatted series, students and teachers gaze with wide-eyed surprise at the renovations they supposedly had been working on all week long.

Meanwhile, Soboroff grills Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about how the school got to be in such desperate condition and why the kids were doing so poorly. The governor makes a fleeting reference to disinterested parents and says nothing about subpar teachers or the undisciplined kids who vandalized the building. Instead, he blames government, labor and special interests. Huh?

So give "School Pride" an A for good intentions, a D for research into what ails public schools and an F for deliberately concealing the fact that it took the network and its sponsors -- and not some empowered community -- to revitalize a school.

Airdate: 8-9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15 (NBC)
Production: Denise Cramsey Prods. in association with Warner Horizon Television
Executive producers: Denise Cramsey, Cheryl Hines
Co-executive producers: Derek W. Wan, Herb Ankrom
Line producer: Carl Hansen
Producers: Stephanie Boyriven, Karin Jarlstedt
Consulting producer: Jacqueline Landrum Sanderlin
Director: Jack Cannon
Concept: Cheryl Hines, Jacqueline Landrum Sanderlin
Developed by: Denise Cramsey
Director of photography: Scott Farquharson
Senior creative executive: Drew Tappon
Executive in charge of production: W. Greg Bohnert
Talent: Tom Stroup, Susie Castillo, Kym Whitley, Jacob Soboroff

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