Gabe Ramirez, NBC
"Toughest Jobs" contestants work on an oil rig.

"America's Toughest Jobs" isn't bad as far as reality/competition shows go.

But it's something that looks like it belongs on a cable channel, not a broadcast network. Unless, perhaps, it's fourth-place NBC, which has apparently pretty much abandoned the strategy that made it No. 1 in the ratings for a couple of decades.

You know, quality dramas and comedies.

You can easily imagine the meeting where "America's Toughest Jobs" (9 p.m., Ch. 5) was dreamed up. Somebody suggested that producer Thom Beers — the man behind "Deadliest Catch" and "Ice Road Truckers" — take his brand of reality show and turn it into a game show.

Which is exactly what "America's Toughest Jobs" is.

The promo that NBC has aired repeatedly throughout the Olympics (the one with one of the contestants declaring, "This is not a game show — this is life or death") is, of course, completely deceptive.

Of course it's a game show. Albeit one that's a lot tougher than "Price Is Right" or "Wheel of Fortune."

Thirteen contestants who have relatively "normal" jobs compete at dangerous jobs. Not surprisingly, they play "Deadliest Catch" and go crabbing in the Bering Sea in Episode 1; they become "Ice Road Truckers" in Episode 2.

(Future episodes will find them gold digging, driving monster trucks, oil rigging, bullfighting, working on a suspension bridge, logging and doing search and rescue.)

At the end of each episode, one of them is eliminated. And the ultimate winner takes home a big check.

As is the case with a lot of reality/competition shows, "America's Toughest Jobs" takes itself way too seriously. Host Josh Temple (TLC's "Backyard Nation") opens the series by intoning, "America was built by hard-working men and women. A select few chose a more adventurous path. A life of big risk, big reward."

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

In the first minute of the show, we have two bleeped f-words and a blurred obscene gesture. I guess we should be grateful for the bleeping and the blurring.

And we're told so often that the contestants are in actual, mortal danger that it seems overdone. No matter how dangerous the job, would a network really risk killing its contestants?

I always kind of thought we might get to that point, but I didn't think we were there yet.

As with all reality shows, its success depends largely on the casting. And this cast of contestants is not exactly compelling in the first couple of episodes. Plus, the first hour is so dark, grim and unpleasant it's hard to imagine that it's going to be a real audience pleaser.

If NBC execs are under the impression that "America's Toughest Job" will help them climb out of last place, they're wrong.

Maybe trying to lift the network out of last place is really America's toughest job.


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