Tube Talk: Old and new shows for a New Year

By Paula Hendrickson

Contributing Writer

Along with the New Year come new shows. Some really are new, like Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America. Others are second-run series that are new to a certain channel, such as the original 2006 British version of Life on Mars, which is coming to WHA (Madison’s PBS station, channel 21 on Comcast cable) after first airing on BBC One in the U.K. and later on BBC America.

If you don’t get BBC America but think Life on Mars sounds familiar, it’s probably because an American version ran on ABC last year. The basic premise (but not the ending) is the same: After being injured, a present-day police detective wakes up in the ’70s. The story is about his efforts to find out how and why he got stuck in the ’70s, and whether he can find a way back.

While the details, music and funky ’70s fashion make the show fun to watch, the best part of the show is John Simm’s standout performance as Sam Tyler. And seeing Philip Glenister as Tyler’s new boss, Gene Hunt, should erase any abysmal memories you may have of Harvey Keitel’s ham-handed portrayal of Hunt in the U.S. version.

Other than Keitel and the last five or 10 minutes of the final episode, I liked the U.S. version, but the original has a magic all its own. The original British Life on Mars is well worth watching, whether or not you like its American counterpart.

If reality shows are more your thing, you might want to check out Worst Cooks in America. It might sound like the antithesis of Top Chef or Chopped, but at its core, it’s a cooking competition. The big difference is that these aren’t trained chefs, they’re ordinary people who aren’t good cooks learning how to cook.

The six-episode series starts with 24 really bad home cooks preparing examples of their culinary skills, so to speak, for chefs Anne Burrell and Beau MacMillan, who bravely sample the fare. Burrell and MacMillan both choose six contestants and put their teams through an intensive culinary boot camp. The first challenge is to duplicate a dish prepared by their team-leader chef.

Additional competitions help winnow the field down to two contestants (one from each team) who, in the sixth episode, will get to use their newfound talents to cook a three-course dinner for food critics. The catch is that those critics think they’ll be tasting Burrell and MacMillan’s cooking. The winner takes home a $25,000 grand prize.

The show should help prove that anyone can cook, as long as they know a few basics.

Both shows begin Jan. 3. Thankfully, not at the same time.

Programming notes

υ Worst Cooks in America debuts on Food Network, Sunday, Jan. 3, at 9 p.m.

υ The original Life on Mars debuts on PBS’ WHA-Madison, Sunday, Jan. 3, at 10 p.m.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to

From the Dec. 30, 2009 – Jan. 5, 2010 issue

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