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Doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars live on Tuesday night, host Ryan Seacrest presided over the premiere of Knock Knock Live like a benevolent sugar-daddy. Standing on a studio set that was clearly made from the bones of former American Idol contestants, Seacrest didn’t sully his own hands with the filthy lucre — he directed camera crews in Covina, California, and Nashville, Tennessee, to illuminate the front doors of lucky citizens as Seacrest and a Hollywood studio audience gaped in hyped-up wonder.
In Covina, Ross Mathews asked a family an easy question and, as a reward, blew $25,000 in small bills onto the cul-de-sac, allowing some of the neighbors to scrape the pavement, picking up cold cash.
In Nashville, Pickler asked one resident to tell her the age of a neighbor boy — the guesses were 11 or 12, but when the kid said he was seven, Seacrest bellowed, “Give it to them anyway!” and a couple won a trip to Mexico, with Seacrest tossing $5,000 to the seven-year-old for good measure. (It’s clear that the game part of this show — answer correctly or you don’t win the money — is pretty much going to be ignored, which is disappointing. Losers make for good live TV too.)
Let me also add here that The View or some other talk show ought to grab up Pickler as a regular — a fine country singer, she demonstrated once again that she’s also an excellent live, fast-on-her-feet talker.
Giving away money to needy people is a genre that goes back to the very beginnings of television, in a show such as Queen for a Day. Knock Knock Live is an ungainly creation, as conceived by producers including Seacrest. The “live” part is only partially true: Taped segments featuring David Beckham and Common giving away dough were pleasant but edited heavily. And the show trades on hard-luck stories of people in need, yet places them in a wild, revved-up-for-the-cameras setting.
Seacrest makes for an affable host — it’s clear he’s not going to have any problem, post-Idol, in staying employed in front of the cameras — but he’s not great at improvising quickly. When he pulled one family out of the studio audience for some largesse, the father of the clan kept chewing gum complacently throughout. You can bet a classic-TV host like Steve Allen or (Seacrest’s own idol) Dick Clark would have commented on the gum-chewing for some quick laughs. Loosen up and be more observant, Ryan.
In general, Knock Knock was pleasant, open-hearted, but far too staged to really take full advantage of its hook: being live TV. Both host and show should learn to trust that sometimes, what happens spontaneously, unexpectedly, makes for better television.
Knock Knock Live airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.