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Tommy takes turn as the Donald

'The Cut' is an improvement over 'The Apprentice.' It's a matter of taste.

June 09, 2005|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

"The Cut" (premiering tonight on CBS) crosses "The Apprentice" with "Project Runway," with the emphasis on the former. Indeed, except for the fact that it is clothing designer and brand overseer Tommy Hilfiger occupying the Throne of Power, the show is in most every respect a clone of Donald Trump's, with its symbolic stunt assignments; its fancy dormitory -- a Soho loft here -- full of confident wannabes looking for a quick step up, at least some of whom will have been cast for their inability to play well with others; its weekly ritual eliminations; and its grand prize of a job working for the star. The last person standing receives a $250,000 "salary," and the opportunity to design a line of clothes under his/her own name for the Tommy Hilfilger label. Nothing is said about whether the company is required to produce them.

"Like you, I once had a dream," the star tells his freshly assembled potential proteges. "It was my dream to build this corporation into a global lifestyle brand." (Not quite Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but to each his own.) This is the latest of what might be called the "pleasing daddy" reality shows, in which contestants curry the favor of a famous person whose career and life they would like to have. The secret of winning, of course, is not so much a matter of vision, talent or a nice smile as it is being the best reflection of what the boss already believes, and it is clear from tonight's opener that some of the entrants understand this better than do others.

"Every year, thousands of young designers come to New York to take their shot at the big time," says Hilfiger by way of introduction. "Virtually every single one will go home empty-handed -- until now." Well, no -- giving one person a job for a year doesn't change that. But such hyperbole is characteristic of the show, which will constitute a summer's worth of free advertising and hopefully a little bit of image repair, at a time when Hilfiger's stock remains stubbornly depressed, the Justice Department has been sniffing around the company's tax returns and consumer allegiances have shifted elsewhere.

As their first "assignment," the players split into two teams to create "a very unique, incredible, history-making billboard" in Times Square. And though Hilfiger declares himself "underwhelmed" by both efforts, I thought, dang, those people managed to get two billboards up in Times Square in 48 hours, and in a cold winter rain. And not so bad-looking, all things considered. Nerves fray, but everything is arranged to encourage them to.

Although some of them are spectacularly annoying, they make a pleasingly motley crew overall, coming from the street and from the suburbs in many shapes and sizes and colors and costumes. There are a self-described "psychotic fashionista," a pro skateboarder, the manager of a Melrose Avenue boutique, a grad student in graphic design, a professional shopper, a former Miss Minnesota, a restaurateur and a few people who have actually made clothes.

As closely as it follows the lines of "The Apprentice," "The Cut" is an improvement on -- or perhaps more accurately put, a relief from -- its model in that Hilfiger's taste, though it is not mine, is as many levels above Trump's as his Tower has floors. (This is, I know, not saying much.). And whereas the Donald has a tendency to puff himself up like Oz the Terrible, Hilfiger seems content just to be likable. Also, in its small way, the show does celebrate the creative impulse: It's nice, even within this cutthroat context, to see people who seem as interested in making things as in making money out of the things they make.


'The Cut'

Where: CBS

When: 8-9 tonight

Host: Tommy Hilfiger

Rating: Unrated

Creator Darren Maddern, executive producer Craig Piligian.

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