Who's gonna live forever?

By Scott D. Pierce
Deseret News television editor

Well, at least the folks behind the latest incarnation of "Fame" aren't trying to pretend they're doing anything particularly new and different. Essentially, this summer series (which premieres tonight at 7 p.m. Ch. 5) is yet another attempt to capitalize on the success of "American Idol."

And what NBC programmers are hoping is that the "Fame" name taken from the 1982-87 TV series will help this talent show stand out in the crowd.

(Which is at least a bit ironic, given that NBC canceled the critically acclaimed TV show after its first season, forcing it into syndication for the following four years.)

"I think we're throwing our hat in the ring," said Debbie Allen, who starred in the '80s series and for this "Fame" is part of the production process and the on-camera task-master of sorts. "Certainly, we're not re-inventing the wheel here. I think we're just joining the party and taking it up to another level to find those artists who are really triple threats meaning they can sing, they can dance and they have that bigger-than-life personality."

And, perhaps, a bigger-than-life ego. Allen is essentially looking for contestants she believes are almost as talented as she is.

"I've always been called a triple threat, and it was always a small circle of people. There was me, there was Chita (Rivera), there was Gregory Hines, Ben Vereen. It's just a very special artist that really can do all of that."

(Allen was certainly nice, friendly and accommodating when she spoke on a teleconference with TV critics. But, seriously, like so many other "stars" she does seem to take herself and her work too seriously. " 'Fame, when we first did it, changed the face of the planet," she said with what sounded like a straight face. "I mean, we went to places where people were fighting or whatever, and they laid down their arms because they wanted to see us dance. They wanted to hear us sing. They wanted to experience that kind of joy.")

The format of this "Fame" is more than a bit like "American Idol." Allen auditioned performers 16 and older at various sites around the country, choosing 24 finalists to travel to Los Angeles. They'll train with her and perform each week for 10 weeks while celebrity judges and viewers at home decide who goes, who stays and who ultimately wins the competition, along with "recording and management contracts, agent representation and a year at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, among other opportunities and prizes."

Joey Fatone of 'N Sync is the host of "Fame," but Allen is the driving force behind the competition.

"It's my job to get them in shape and help them perfect their presentation to the best of my ability and to make this a wonderful show," said Allen, who will be in charge of what NBC is calling a talent "boot camp" for contestants. Which means she'll both mother them and bully them like a Marine Corps drill instructor.

"It's both. I mean, I don't know a mama who isn't a Marine, honey," she said. "I don't know a mama who isn't policing her children trying to get them to school, trying to get them to not watch 'Grand Theft Auto,' trying to get them to take a music lesson. It's my world. I'm being myself. It's tough love with me."

Ah, the price of fame.