Adam Larkey, ABC
Nicole is one of the 12 contestants on "The Mole."

Apparently, ABC is so desperate for new programming that it's bringing back old ideas. "The Mole" returns to the network tonight (9 p.m., Ch. 4).

The last time this show was on ABC — back in 2001-02 — CNN's Anderson Cooper was the host. Although he was already on CNN by the time ABC aired celebrity versions of "The Mole" in 2003 and 2004.

There are no celebrities anywhere to be seen on the new "Mole." Just a dozen people whose desperate desire to win oodles of cash is exceeded only by their desperate desire to be on TV.

And heaven knows there are LOTS of people like that.

What's kind of weird about the revival of "The Mole" is that you might expect a few changes since the last time it aired. After all, it wasn't really a big success the first time around.

But what we saw is what we get. With the exception of the addition of a new host (Jon Kelly, formerly of "Extra"), it's pretty much the same old "Mole."

A dozen contestants compete together and against one another. They travel to exotic locales and try to win money to add to the pot that one of them will win in the end.

But one of them is a mole, planted by the show's producers and paid to mess things up for the other contestants. The mole's job is to keep the contestants from adding to the pot but do it subtly enough so that the others don't know who he/she is.

At the end of each episode, the contestants are asked a series of questions about who they think the mole is. The one who does the worst on the quiz is "executed" and kicked off the show.

Essentially, this is sort of a much-meaner incarnation of "The Amazing Race." MUCH meaner.

As is the case with so many "reality" shows, the entertainment comes from watching the contestants fight and bicker and backstab. These people weren't all cast because we're going to love them; some of them were clearly cast in the hopes that we'll love to hate them.

In tonight's premiere, Nicole, a 32-year-old OB-GYN from Chicago, pretty much instantly nominates herself for contestant-you-love-to-hate. If her ability to circumvent the rules doesn't get you, this probably will:

"What's wrong with being smart and gorgeous at the same time?" she asks in reference to herself.

And if that doesn't get you, there's this exchange with the show's host after the other 11 players have unanimously named her as the whiniest player:

"Do you mind if I call you 'Whiner'?" Kelly asks.

"Doctor Whiner," Nicole responds.

In next week's second episode, a fellow contestant says, "One thing left out of (Nicole's) esteemed education was manners."

This is where the entertainment value in shows like "The Mole" comes from. The producers want us to root for some contestants and against others — they want us to like some and hate others.

It's like a soap opera, which does exactly the same thing with its heroes and villains. And, like soap operas, sometimes the heroes turn into villains and the villains turn into heroes.

It's harder to understand how we're supposed to be entertained by people who act badly — who fight with each other, using shouted insults — but then amateurs who want their 15 minutes of fame are a whole lot cheaper than paid actors.

"The Mole" is not great TV by any stretch of the imagination. It's not any worse than a lot of "reality" shows, either.

Sadly enough.


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