As a network, TNT has rarely missed an opportunity to trumpet the fact that it knows drama. It’s a reasonable enough claim considering the lengthy runs of such series as The Closer—which has now morphed into Major Crimes—and Leverage, but TNT has yet to really make any headway in the realm of reality-competition series.
Granted, it’s really only made one attempt at it in the past, but given that the series in question—2012’s The Great Escape, executive produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer—was cancelled after only a single season, one could be forgiven for thinking that it may not be a genre that’s of interest to the network’s viewership. (And, really, why would it be? The slogan “We Know Drama” certainly seems to be aiming straight for the audience that prefers scripted series to “unscripted” reality programming.)
Now that summer’s rolled around again, TNT’s taking another shot at reality-competition success… or, rather, two shots. Neither can be said to be wholly original, but between one borrowing from the best and the other bringing in a genuine movie star as a host, the network’s chances of pulling a regular viewership would seem to be slightly better than average.
First up is The Hero, otherwise known as “the one with The Rock.” Given how many times Dwayne Johnson’s films have turned up and been run ad nauseum on the TNT schedule, there’s no arguing that he’s someone who speaks straight to the network’s audience—but there’s the added bonus that he’s a charismatic fellow who by all accounts seems to be a really nice guy, the classic “girls want to be with him, guys want to be him” kind of man. Your personal mileage may vary on this, of course, but the show’s contestants are all appropriately awed whenever Johnson is in their presence, and he does seem to have given at least a couple of the ladies a case of the vapors.
In his introduction, Johnson assures viewers they’re about to watch “the greatest adventure competition [they’ll] ever get to experience from your couch,” a claim which can be spotted as hyperbole from a mile away. The Hero is, like so many competition series nowadays, an amalgam of several of its predecessors in the genre, drawing from Big Brother by having the audience play a part in the decision-making process, unabashedly bringing to mind The Apprentice by featuring a boardroom, and, inevitably, taking a cue from Survivor by pitting the contestants against each other and offering them the opportunity to play mind games in order to walk away with extra cash for themselves.
And who are the contestants? Well, there’s a cheerleader (Athena) and a professional wrestler (Shaun), a police officer (Charles) and a trauma surgeon (Dave), a construction worker (Marty) and a service technician (Darnell), a fitness trainer (Lydia), a teacher (Rachel), and…a crier? Yes, that would be Patti, who seems to have been chosen solely because she’s about as unlikely a hero as one can imagine, or certainly the least likely in this group. Her big shining moment in the pilot occurs when she reveals that she’s afraid of heights yet still climbs a flight of unfinished stairs to reach the warm embrace of Johnson, sobbing all the way, “I’m not going to fail!” She does not fail, and good for her, but given her tendency to burst into tears at the drop of a hat, either she’s going to surprise everyone by winning the whole thing or she’s going to be off the show in short order.
Oh, right, you’re probably wondering what there is to win. There’s a million bucks at stake, all told, with various group challenges being worth various amounts, which can be added to the grand prize total, but the contestants also have the option to keep the money for themselves. Most seem to be at least towing the group line by talking up the ridiculousness of going the selfish route, but at least one brash young lady—the aforementioned Lydia—says outright that she doesn’t think it’s wrong to keep the money for herself. When others comment that it doesn’t strike them as very hero-like behavior, she argues that heroes are honest, and that’s what she’s being. So, yeah, basically, she’s already coming off as the Omarosa of the series.
It looks as though the challenges are going to be pretty epic—in the first episode, several contestants are required to swing across the outside of the upper floors of a disconcertingly tall building—but after just one episode, the squabbling between the contestants was already getting on my nerves, making it hard to imagine tuning in week after week to see who’s going to come up the victor. In addition, the rules of the game are somewhat elaborate, with some contestants being involved in challenges while others aren’t, but those that aren’t may get a call from Johnson, offering them an opportunity to betray their fellow contestants to get money, at which point other contestants will be affected by their actions. Yeah, sure, Johnson’s awesome, but if it wasn’t for him, The Hero would grow a lot less appealing a lot more quickly.
72 Hours, on the other hand, offers a format that makes it very easy to imagine tuning in on a weekly basis, owing mostly to the fact that it’s episodic rather than serialized. Each week, three new groups of three contestants are thrown into a scenario in the wilderness—each episode is set in a different location—with a bottle of water, a GPS device, and a goal of finding a briefcase filled with $100,000 cash. After they reach certain points in their expedition, they’re provided with supplies, and if they get desperate and need assistance, they’re able to call in a rescue drop at the expense of an hour’s penalty. In short, it’s more or less half Survivor and half The Amazing Race, but given that it’s a new game every episode, you don’t have to give up on the show just because you’ve missed a week. (You also may note that it only necessitated a single paragraph to sum up everything you need to know about 72 Hours and why it’s worth watching.)
The Hero may have the advantage of having The Rock on its side, which is no doubt why it’s premiering first, but people do decide to tune in, then here’s hoping that people stick around for 72 Hours. Of the two shows, the latter is the better by far.
The Hero: C
72 Hours: B+
- Of the contestants on The Hero, the one who actually would be entertaining to watch on a weekly basis is Charles, the police officer. He executes a perfect tuck and roll into the Hero Penthouse in his first appearance, and when Lydia arrives, he introduces himself with a completely straight face as “your host, the Rock.” Pretty funny.