The Scholar debuts tonight.

ABC sticks with the feel-good reality subgenre with tonight’s 8 p.m. ET debut of The Scholar, a competition featuring needy high school “Seniors from economically disadvantaged backgrounds” competing for a full ride to college.

Ten students will compete in challenges and will have to face off in “sudden-death oral exams defending themselves to an Ivy League scholarship committee.” Every student will win at least $20,000, and the winner will get a scholarship worth up to $240,000. According to The New York Times, the show “was conceived by two former admissions officers, Jaye Pace (formerly of Columbia University) and Shannon Meairs (late of Pepperdine),” and the judges are Columbia and Berkeley admissions officers. It’s also executive produced by Steve Martin.

Critics have mixed feelings. The New York Daily News’ David Bianculli slams the series, saying “it’s about as exciting as an SAT test, and is oddly devoid of heart as well as tension.” He specifically cites “the casting,” including the “charisma-free” host, the “more pompous than appealing” judges, and the “only one or two [contestants who] radiate warmth.” The Boston Globe says it’s “likable, if dull.” But The Chicago Tribune says “the smart money is on ‘Scholar’ gaining a following” because it “is painless viewing.”

The Scholar [ABC]
Smart Kids’ Reality TV: Vying for Scholarships [New York Times]
‘Scholar’ pulls down failing grade [New York Daily News]
‘Scholar’ is a lesson in being likable, if dull [Boston Globe]
The smart money is on ‘Scholar’ gaining a following [Chicago Tribune]
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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 37, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.