Viewers could be saying “Get me out of here!” after the premiere of NBC’s “I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!”
The nightly competition show originates from the Costa Rican jungle, with semi-famous people vying for food, supplies and money for their favorite charities — not to mention coronation as King or Queen of the Jungle. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture between NBC Universal and Microsoft.)
But judging from Monday’s debut, most of the action is bickering and eating bugs.
No one was eliminated, depriving viewers of that small measure of gratification.
“The only thing that’s certain is, YOU are in control of their lives,” co-host Damien Fahey told the audience at the top of the show. Promises, promises.
And despite the promise of spontaneity from the show’s live segments, most of the seemingly endless two hours was pretaped and carefully edited.
Actor Stephen Baldwin, pro wrestler Torrie Wilson and former Illinois first lady Patti Blagojevich are among the show’s 11 contenders.
So are lovey-dovey newlyweds Spencer and Heidi Pratt (stars of MTV’s “The Hills”), who furnished most of the limited entertainment value while sending the irritation level off the charts.
Heidi, skilled at channeling a second-rate version of Paris Hilton, kept the howlers coming. Peering into a tree, she wondered aloud, “Is that a REAL monkey?”
And during one of her meltdowns over rustic camp conditions, she declared, “This is just almost borderline real torture. Like I would do to al-Qaida.”
Meanwhile, hubby Spencer displayed his specialty for sarcasm, with intermittent temper tantrums thrown in for good measure.
With numbing regularity, the couple bailed out, then reconsidered, returning to the camp and the competition. But after coming back on one occasion and finding the others had plundered their belongings in their absence, Spencer went ballistic.
“Where does it end?! Where does it end?!” he railed, temporarily unhinged.
‘Why is your husband facing jail time?’
But the Pratts are just two people. There’s little hope they can save this show. Nor can former “American Idol” contestant Sanjaya Malakar, or former NBA pro and TV personality John Salley.
The show’s most novel participant is Patti Blagojevich, whose husband, ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, had planned to be on the show until a judge ruled he couldn’t leave the U.S. He has pleaded not guilty to federal fraud charges, and in the best sequence of “I’m a Celebrity,” his wife filled in as his advocate.
Spencer broached the delicate subject, which he called “this big elephant in the room,” by asking, “Why is your husband facing jail time? What happened?”
“I can’t really get into it too much,” she replied, “except that they made hoopla out of something that wasn’t even true...”
Her husband “was fighting special interests down in that entrenched state capitol,” she continued. “You make these huge enemies. ... They didn’t like that he went around them, see?”
Chiming in with more support, one-time supermodel Janice Dickinson told her, “You need to set the record straight, and we’re glad you did.”
Then Patti clasped hands with Spencer and Heidi, who led them in prayer: “I pray that the truth will be revealed. I pray that he will triumph ...”
Wacky, all right. But “I’m a Celebrity” looks like a dud anyway. Can the show get better, airing night after night the next four weeks? Maybe NBC should say its prayers.