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'PoweR Girls' delivers bad PR

MTV's ''PoweR Girls" is both a poorly made reality show and an American cultural tragedy. It's two, two, two grotesqueries in one.

On one level, it's a chaotic look at the world of PR flacks and how a team of Manhattan chippies gets press for rich customers such as Ja Rule and P. Diddy. And on another level, it's a troubling image makeover for PR princess Lizzie Grubman as well as a repulsive celebration of fame for fame's sake, featuring Paris Hilton as its vapidity divinity. The show, which premieres tonight at 10:30, worships the velvet ropes as if they were the gates to heaven.

Grubman, you may recall, served 37 days in jail for backing her SUV into a crowd at a Southampton, N.Y., nightclub in 2001. Her moment behind the wheel injured 16 bystanders, men and women who might beg to differ with the way ''PoweR Girls" elevates Grubman into the wise leader of four fawning protégés at her PR firm. In the sloppy narrative of the show, we see Grubman mentoring her young charges with advice about professionalism and romance. She has her petty moments, including some sniping about the fiancé of one of her assistants, but mostly she's portrayed as a brassy power girl par excellence.

Having done her time, Grubman shouldn't have to live her life in the shadow of her mistake. But still, rewarding her with a TV series is one of the medium's weaker messages, making crime into a sort of career move. While Martha Stewart and Bobbie Brown will soon have reality shows, they're ex-cons who'd be on TV with or without a record. Grubman has made it onto the small screen almost solely for having harmed innocent people.

The show puts Lizzie in the position Donald Trump holds in ''The Apprentice," in that she acts as the celebrity superego of her wannabes, judging their work and chastising them for mistakes. She oversees their PR projects, which include managing the opening of a Chelsea nightclub tonight and, next week, P. Diddy's July Fourth party in the Hamptons. Will Grubman's crew, including California girl Kelly and motivated Michigander Rachel, get the invitation lists in order? Will they draw the ''O.C." cast to the party? Will they make sure the tabloids publish juicy items the next morning? The show lamely tries to create drama around these questions, as Grubman frets over her kids. But the real heavy breathing in ''PoweR Girls" comes with the celebrity sightings, of which there are many.

Rather signs off

Reprising a signature sign-off slogan from earlier in his career, Dan Rather ended 24 years in the CBS anchor chair last night by counseling a nation still wounded by 9/11, US troops stationed in harm's way, and people suffering under oppression to have ''courage."

Last week, Rather said he had been ''staggering around" trying to craft an appropriate goodbye, vowing: ''I don't want it to be about me." Last night, at the end of an otherwise routine broadcast in which Rather was calm, composed, and authoritative, he began brief closing remarks by thanking his colleagues and extending a ''deeply felt thanks to all of you who have let us into your homes night after night."

When Rather's predecessor Walter Cronkite vacated the CBS anchor slot on March 6, 1981, he said, ''I'll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years." Those few years turned into nearly a quarter-century as Rather -- who will remain at CBS as a ''60 Minutes" correspondent -- compiled the longest tenure of anyone in a network anchor chair.

MARK JURKOWITZ

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