Sunday night VH1 a wild kingdom

Remember when Sunday night TV was family friendly?...

Remember when Sunday night TV was family friendly? After a wholesome 1970s dinner of Shake-and-Bake chicken and crescent rolls, our family would sit down to a heaping helping of Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom" and stories about baby tigers on "Wonderful World of Disney."

Boy, things have changed.

Nowadays, VH1's "Celebreality TV" fills Sunday evening with stories of teen idols-turned-cokeheads, overly confident jerks and the co-dependents who love them, and - most heartwarming of all - former porn stars/strippers vying for the heart of washed-up rock stars.

Wild kingdom, indeed.

As I feel "Desperate Housewives" jumped the shark long ago, I've resigned myself to watching the former music network's new Sunday night lineup. I always find the experience vaguely unsettling, wildly entertaining and - in regards to one show at least - unexpectedly touching.


Here's the lowdown on two of the night's prime time shows:

'Tool Academy'

This show's premise is actually funny: A bunch of preening, over-groomed, oddly confident young men participate, thinking they will compete for the title of "Mr. Awesome." Instead, they've been nominated for the series by their put-upon girlfriends, who are sick of their boyfriends' egotistical, self-absorbed, two-timing ways.

And so the aforementioned tools undergo various challenges, which aim to school them on the foreign concepts of trust, respect, honesty and grooming without benefit of spray tan or disturbingly tiny underwear.

This truly is a tool's paradise. One contestant is named Ryan but calls himself "Matsuflex." (If you're going to have an alter ego, why would you want to sound like a Korean-made Pilates machine?) They lift weights obsessively, sport ludicrous hairstyles and slip their numbers to the makeup artists when they think their girls aren't watching. (Silly tools. This is reality TV. Of course they're watching.)

Highlight: In last week's episode, Jaimee, the woman who accompanied her boyfriend Shawn on the show, learned he was seeing her while dating Aida, his real girlfriend of six years. After Jaimee stormed off the show, Aida took her place, declaring: "He needs help. I just want to help him."

Wow. Maybe "Tool Academy" should be renamed: "Tool Academy - and the Women with Low Self-Esteem Who Love Them."

'Confessions of a Teen Idol'


Like a small ruby buried in a manure pile, this series is an unexpected gem. It follows eight former teen idols whose stars have fallen so far that, well, they're now on a VH1 reality show. The former heartthrobs - whose ranks include Christopher Atkins of "Blue Lagoon" fame and Adrian Zmed of "T.J. Hooker" - receive makeovers, career advice and the obligatory counseling from various experts.

nexpectedly sweet and touching. These guys have been chewed up and spit out by Hollywood, which has instilled them with a humility and perspective you won't find in the Tom Cruises of the world. In one episode, Bill Hufsey ("Fame") told the other contestants he had been homeless, and used to go to a certain church every day to pray for food.

The worst part of the show is that its executive producer, Scott Baio, feels the need to leap out from the control room every once in a while to lecture the contestants about the joys and pitfalls of fame. (Baio's own career received CPR from yet another VH1 show, "Scott Baio is 45 ... and Single.")

But overall, you really find yourself rooting for these guys. Heck, if the unfunny Jim Belushi can get his own show, couldn't the still-boyishly handsome Atkins play a dad on some teen-centric sitcom?

Now if only VH1 had a reality show about baby tigers ... .

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525 or

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