Mark Burnett improves on The Apprentice with the addictive On the Lot

I usually don’t get addicted to reality shows after the first episode, but after one hour of FOX’s new series On the Lot, it’s clear that summer has its most watchable new show.

Mark Burnett’s new series manages to make his other series, The Apprentice, and its star, Donald Trump, completely irrelevant. While On the Lot strikes the same overall tone as the NBC show—the shots of Los Angeles and the score feel very familiar, especially after the LA Apprentice—the content is a lot different. This show doesn’t need a blowhard making arbitrary decisions about mostly pointless tasks.

Instead, On the Lot takes more of a Project Runway approach, giving talented people telegenic tasks to test their skills. Last night, the 50 semi-finalists had to pitch a film using a one-line description of it to three judges; later, they had to form three-person teams to create a short film. Because the show so far values success over drama, they were just able to pick teams, rather than being assigned to each other in some arbitrary or manipulative way. That’s not to say there’s not plenty of drama, because there is; so far, that consists of conflict between the type-A directors who have to work in groups of three.

Eventually, when the contestants are narrowed to 18, the show will take a bit of an American Idol turn, when viewers start voting for their favorite one-minute films. But even though last night’s eliminations stole directly from FOX’s other show when the semi-finalists were eliminated by row, it’s hard to imagine the new series devolving into an Idol-like spectacle, with a screaming audience of morons. On the Lot is definitely one to watch.

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