Airdate: 8-9 p.m. Tuesday, June 24 (ABC)
On the one hand, I yield to no one in my delight at spending a full hour watching everyday, ordinary people get humiliated and fall into mud. On the other hand, “Wipeout,” which premiered Tuesday night, comes closer than almost any other show to justifying the comment made decades ago by former FCC commissioner Newton Minow in which he described TV as “a vast wasteland.”
Think of it. Here is a show in which two dozen contestants in various stages of fitness compete in what the show’s announcer calls “the most breathtaking obstacle course ever assembled.” It is a medley of large balls, automated boxing gloves, easily tipped rafts, spinning devices and other contrivances, all designed to get people to lose their balance and fall into mud or, sometimes, water.
It’s a safe bet that 5-year-old children would love to climb, jump and run all over this stuff. However, it’s also a safe bet that their little inquisitive minds would be bored senseless if they had to sit and watch it not just once but over and over again in slow motion.
Where oh where is it written that the summer solstice causes IQs to drop at least 20 points? Small wonder that ABC opted not to provide critics with screeners.
An announcement at the start of the episode promised “breathtaking spills, spectacular tumbles and catastrophic falls.” In fact, the entire show consists almost entirely of spills, tumbles and falls, most of which fell short of being breathtaking, spectacular or catastrophic.
Hosts John Anderson and John Henson did little but explain the obstacle course and provide snarky comments about the contestants. When one of them, a minister, took a tumble, Henson said, “Pastor Jerry just got Bible belted.” When a waitress took a spill, the comment was “Check, please.” One host declared that another contestant, a 19-year-old candy salesman, was “like being a kid in a candy store.”
You had to wait until the very end for the funniest part. That’s when closing credits revealed the existence of three “comedy producers” paid to come up with these quips. If only more such jobs existed, the economy would be humming.
Conventional wisdom says viewers in the summer prefer original programs to reruns. If nothing else, “Wipeout” provides a perfect test.
Production: Endemol USA. Hosts: John Anderson, John Henson. Co-host: Jill Wagner. Executive producer: Matt Kunitz. Co-executive producers: Scott Larsen, Shye Sutherland. Supervising producer: Kevin Wehrenberg. Series producer: Trice Barto. Producer: Christopher Poole. Senior producer: Jason Henry. Director/consulting producer: J. Rupert Thompson.