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by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & On the Lot


(Tuesdays 8 pm, Fox) & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & n the Lot, which promises to give one no-name film director a million-dollar deal with Dreamworks, began with two incredibly compelling episodes.





The directors were first given a prompt and the evening to come up with a film pitch for judges Carrie Fisher, Garry Marshall and Brett Ratner. No one slept, nerves were fried, people tanked, the cream rose to the top. It was exciting, excruciating stuff. In Week Two, the 36 contestants who remained were put in teams of three and told to shoot a short film in 24 hours. Directorial egos clashed, people screamed, mediocre movies resulted. Again, brilliant. There was apparently a third audition round, but it never aired, isn't available online and no mention has been made of it since. In film, that's called a continuity error. From Week Three on, the show is nothing but.





In place of the struggles of writing and shooting and editing films, we're now just given the finished products, film after film in succession. Then we're asked to vote on them. The egos are gone, as are the conflicts. So is the fun. All that remains are dimwits Fisher and Marshall, offering no better critique than applauding when the films have "a beginning, middle and end" and furrowing their brows when they don't. These supposed Hollywood insiders are so staggeringly trite, I think I'm getting PTSD.





A tale of two series, then, and two reality TV archetypes. The kind on display in Episodes One and Two puts real people in fake situations that apply the right kind of pressure to create drama. Tension builds, then reaches a breaking point and is either resolved or disaster strikes. Done well, it's as good as anything else on TV.





The second kind is metadrama. Built on the American Idol audience-is-the-judge standard (which spends 30 minutes on performances and the other 12 telling us what numbers to call to vote and telling Verizon customers how to text-message), the drama doesn't exist on the screen so much as in our living rooms as we wonder whom we -- with our furious text-message-interacting -- have sent packing.





Metadrama, in the right situation, makes for good ratings. Metadrama has never yet, though, made for good television. Swiftly nose-diving Nielsen ratings mean that On the Lot's particular brand makes for neither.





Burn Notice


When someone wants a spy to go away but doesn't want them dead, they put out a burn notice, essentially blacklisting him. That's what's happened to Michael Western for no apparent reason -- setting the stage for snappy spy satire! The commercials have a dry crackle that's inviting, and Bruce Campbell's chubby lechery is always welcome. Longer previews fall flat, though, so don't hold your breath. (Premieres Thursday, 10 pm, USA)





Age of Love


Nobody would accuse tennis burnout Mark Phillipoussis of being a deep human being. He's shallower than a Roger Federer drop shot, which makes him maybe the perfect dolt to hem and haw over 13 women, six of whom are in their 20s and the rest in their 40s. (Mondays, 9 pm, NBC)





Deadliest Catch


I've been kicking it with my parents a lot lately. That means a) pounds of red meat, b) lots of intrusive prodding, and c) scads -- hours upon hours -- of Deadliest Catch. The arctic king crab fishing documentary series isn't the kind of TV that'll win awards, but it really delivers when you've been incapacitated by a 16oz T-bone. (Thursdays, 9 pm, Discovery)

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