Elvis Presley, Helen Keller, Tiger Woods and Dr. Phil don't seem to have a whole lot in common. But each has been chosen as one of 100 nominees for Discovery Channel's "Greatest American."

The series, airing on four Sundays in June, puts viewers in charge of selecting the most significant citizen over the course of the country's history. As you might expect, Abe Lincoln and George Washington made the cut. So did Madonna, Donald Trump and Michael Jackson.

At the end of Sunday's three-hour premiere episode, host Matt Lauer will name the 25 finalists, based on polling that was conducted earlier this year. Viewers can then make their choices via the Internet, toll-free phone numbers and text messaging; specifics on those procedures will be given at the end of the show.

In the second episode (June 12 from 9 to 11 p.m.), Lauer and others -- including actors, comedians, politicians and athletes -- will offer insights into the top 25 nominees; voting will determine the top five. In the third installment (June 19 from 9 to 10 p.m.), celebrities will discuss the qualities and contributions of the five finalists. The victor will be declared in the finale (June 26 from 9 to 10 p.m.), presented live from New York.

Lauer, co-host of NBC's "Today," knows a little bit about Americana: Since 1998, he has been the main host of MSNBC's biography series "Headliners & Legends." But he deems "Greatest American" a different kind of venture.

"This is much more a survey, a list and a comparison," he said. "It's getting people to look back at the history of the country and find out who had the greatest impact, then talk about it and even argue about it when appropriate. The aim is to come up with a less-than-scientific designation of which person is the greatest American."

"We're also a country fascinated by lists," Lauer said. "You really have people who run the gamut, and I think that's what makes this particular list so interesting."

-- Zap2it


Sunday at 8 p.m. on Discovery