Alibi V.25 No.13 • March 31-April 6, 2016 

Idiot Box

“America’s Greatest Makers” on TBS

Back to the drawing board

TV currently has a comfortable number of reality shows in which ordinary people pitch their ideas for the next great mousetrap. But if there’s one thing TV loves, it’s oversaturation. So TBS has greenlit the unscripted competition “America’s Greatest Makers,” which allows backyard inventors to pitch their million-dollar ideas. If the idea sounds viable, the makers go on to the next round, in which they’re mentored on the ins and outs of manufacturing. Each week, more people get eliminated until there’s only one left to claim a million dollar prize. Basically, it’s “Shark Tank” crossed with “The Voice.” Unsurprisingly, it comes to us from producer Mark Burnett (“Shark Tank,” “The Voice”).

The show starts with teams coming into the studio and presenting their ideas. Some are clever, some are dumb. This part differs from “Shark Tank” only in that judges push a button on a tablet computer and the judgments are rendered on the floor in glowing blue (yes) or red (no) lights. So hi-tech! The judges here include Intel CEO Brian Krzanich (impressive), “media personality” Carol Roth (OK), comedian/“Attack of the Show” host Kevin Pereira (huh) and retired NBA player Kenny Smith (that went south fast). None of them have quite the outsized personalities of “Shark Tank” regulars Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran or Robert Herjavec. Also, since they’re not personally investing in the products pitched, there’s considerably less at stake.

As a showcase of technology, the show presents us with the usual collection of hair-brained “futuristic” ideas. These armchair inventors want to steer things with their minds, “revolutionize toothbrushing” or create light-up LED clothing. Fifteen of the pitches will be chosen to head to the “Make or Break” round. It’s faintly interesting to see things progress beyond the boardroom pitch meeting of “Shark Tank.” But how innovative these cast-off Apple smart devices will really be remains to be seen.

So what’s the point, really? Well, the secret angel investor behind all of this turns out to be ... Intel. (Making it much less impressive that Krzanich is there). In fact, all of the inventions pitched on “America’s Greatest Makers” must include an Intel Curie as the central component. The company breathlessly describes Curie as a “low-power hardware module for wearable and other consumer and industrial edge devices.” It’s basically a super cheap, super tiny computer. And yes, “America’s Greatest Makers” serves as a season-long commercial for the device. Look closely at the opening credits and you’ll see that the show is actually subtitled “An Intel Experience.” It doesn’t matter whether you watch this or not. TBS already made its money soaking Intel for a pretty penny. Wanna know what the future holds? Don’t look at the inventions on this show, pay attention to the corporate sponsored credits.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s great that TV is finding ways to celebrate intelligence and technology. And maybe this is the kind of thing that will encourage a young girl or boy to take up a career in science. But for a show about innovation, “America’s Greatest Makers” sure looks like it fell off the Hollywood assembly line.

“America’s Greatest Makers” premieres Tuesday, April 5, at 7pm on TBS.