June 9, 2005 -- "The Cut" Tonight at 8 on CBS/Ch. 2 * * 1/2
IN the rag trade, taking someone else's successful design and shamelessly copying it line-for-line is called a knock-off, and is a practice that designers like Tommy Hilfiger spend bazillions trying (unsuccessfully) to prevent.
In television, stealing another's successful concept is called business as usual, and now even those in the high-end schmatte trade are happy to dip their beaks into this well-used well.
That is, interestingly enough, just what Hilfiger and CBS have done with their new reality show, "The Cut," which they are promoting like it's the Second Coming — and it is. It's the second show just like it to come along. The first one is, of course, "The Apprentice."
Right off, understand that Hilfiger is no Trump. For one thing, his hair isn't beige, and for another, he's not as believable as the know-it-all, fire-breathing fire mogul.
Despite the copycat music, the New York City locale, the shared fancy digs and the premise — contestants on teams compete in grueling design tasks to win Hilfiger's approval — the show still stands up on its own.
The reason probably has less to do with Hilfiger (at one point he even brings in a gray-haired guy named George to help judge the fitness of the contestants), and much to do with the contestants themselves. They are for the most part weirdoes and half-loony misfits who all think they are incredibly creative.
They come dressed to impress, but look more like they're dressed to depress, because their outfits are awful and inappropriate. Age inappropriate, gender inappropriate and just taste inappropriate.
They range (and this is great) from middle-aged to young 20s and from students to boutique owners and one successful athlete/designer.
The first week's task is to create billboards — which are lined up at 90-degree angles to each other — in Times Square.
One team actually paints the billboard freehand from a scaffold, while the other designs and executes their design on canvas, which they then tack up in the howling wind from a scaffold.
One team decides to recolor the Tommy Hilfiger logo and paint a cityscape complete with a Statue of Liberty, while the other decides to do an abstract painting and spell out the Tommy Hilfiger letters in a typeface that looks like it belongs on the Korean Olympic team's uniforms.
Despite the fact that "The Cut" is a knock-off, it's still a good knock-off that is lots of fun.
However, for reasons too stupid to even begin to contemplate, the producers cut off the ending in the tapes they sent out to critics. Oh, please! Maybe they wanted to keep the one thing we haven't seen before a big surprise!