TV Preview

'Fast Cars & Superstars,' Stuck in Low Gear

Celebrities such as William Shatner (with NASCAR driver Ryan Newman) play it safe on the ABC reality show.
Celebrities such as William Shatner (with NASCAR driver Ryan Newman) play it safe on the ABC reality show. (By Guy D'alema -- Abc Via Associated Press)
By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007

Two years ago, in the dead of summer, ABC unfurled "Dancing With the Stars." Featuring an intriguing mix of A-list athletes and B-list celebrities on its dance card, the reality show grew to become one of the network's top-rated shows.

This summer, ABC's latest reality show hopeful tries another competition premise, though the speed and decibel level have been raised considerably. Celebrities from the worlds of sports and entertainment go vroom-vroom around a NASCAR track hoping to outpace one another.

Call it "Dancing With the Cars."

That sure beats the real title, "Fast Cars & Superstars: Gillette Young Guns Celebrity Race," the ring of which proves just as clunky as the checkered show itself.

NASCAR ratings, though off some in recent years, are still quite healthy on Fox and ESPN, which own the rights to the sport. But NASCAR fans probably won't have much interest in this "Battle of the Network Stars" treatment of the sport, despite the presence of such Grade A racers as Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson.

The show's races are actually just a series of time trials, with none of the participants actually going head-to-head. That severely limits the chance of a crash, and really -- where's the fun in doing that?

Among the 12 contestants are Jewel (yes, the singer), Tony Hawk (yep, the skateboarding legend/mogul) and Krista Allen (if you can't place the name, well -- it's been many short-term acting gigs since "Baywatch").

The biggest name is William Shatner, the professional ham who competes in a future episode that was not made available for preview. Shatner's voice, though, opens each episode. "Fear," he says in his best Captain Kirk baritone. "There's always that element."

There's very little drama in tonight's episode, which features Serena Williams (who proves to be a slowpoke on the track), an aging John Elway and professional surfer Laird Hamilton, who easily laps the field in his overuse of the word "awesome."

The real star, though, is ESPN announcer Kenny Mayne, himself a former "Dancing With the Stars" contestant; he co-hosts with racing aficionado and former NBA all-star Brad Daugherty. The ever-hyper Mayne is full of hyperbole, calling Elway a "Jedi warrior on the course" and uttering more than once that Hamilton is "out of his mind."

But it's clear that Mayne is taking this production none too seriously, at one point saying that Elway has "set a new paradigm for celebrity racing greatness, whatever 'paradigm' means."

As the non-race races drone on, the only competition worth following is: Which advertiser will get in the most product plugs? Will it be Lowe's, the retail chain that has its name on the racetrack? Or Gillette, whose company name is in the show title? Or maybe, which plasters its name on the would-be speed machines?

They're coming down the track and . . . it's Gillette by a whisker!

Fast Cars & Superstars: Gillette Young Guns Celebrity Race (30 minutes) premieres tonight at 8 on Channel 7.

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