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Charitable 'Beauty' lacks ugliness of humiliation-based reality shows

Of the many begetters of reality TV, from ''Miss America" to Andy Warhol, Howard Stern remains the king of all influences. Before ''The Bachelor" became a craze, Stern was conducting steamy in-studio dating games that were unscripted and yet as theatrical as ''WWE Smackdown!"

Stern portrays himself as a brother geek to all nerdy men hopelessly dreaming of porn beauties, and that sensibility defined the dating show ''Average Joe" in 2003. Tonight at 8 on Channel 56, the WB and producer Ashton Kutcher try to breathe life into the same ugly-guy-pretty-gal genre with a reality series called ''Beauty and the Geek." Naturally, as the show's male Mensa members mix with voluptuous models, one shapely bimbo swears that Columbus discovered America in 1942. And just as naturally, the show is designed for the young male demographic.

But there's something slightly new about ''Beauty and the Geek," which teams seven pimply guys with seven shallow ladies in a competition for $250,000. Reality TV generally relies on brash humiliation for its entertainment value. But a more recent offshoot that includes ''Beauty and the Geek" has unscripted drama coming off like a little bit of prime-time charity. Like ''Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," ''Beauty" is meant to improve its players' lives, while delivering a little morality play for viewers. It's meant to be positive for those reality fans burning out on the cruelty trend.

The idea is that the geeks, including an assistant Boy Scout master and the vice president of the ''Dukes of Hazzard" fan club, are educating the beauties. We see them coaching their flighty teammates for spelling bees and fifth-grade intelligence tests, hoping to teach them the value of knowledge. Meanwhile, the ladies are trying to make the geeks less socially awkward, with dance sessions and pop culture lessons. They treat the boys like adorable little puppies, training them with glimpses of cleavage as motivators. In a touch that gives the show a bit of porn-store affect, the women are given descriptors such as ''Life-Size Barbie Model" and ''Sorority Girl."

The moral of the five-episode series, of course, is that beauty is only skin deep. As non-geek host Brian McFayden puts it at the beginning of the series, ''You can't always judge a book by its cover." In the case of obvious reality fluff like ''Beauty and the Geek," however, you can usually judge a show by its title.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

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