What makes a cloney-baloney reality show such as the new ''Skating With Celebrities" bearable? For me, it's the constant awareness of how ''Saturday Night Live" might milk its silliness. On a picture-in-picture in my mind, I see Amy Poehler in a black wig transforming Nancy Kerrigan into a demon pixie. It's as if I become my own private Beavis (OK, Butt-Head, too), delivering a crude commentary to myself while B-, C-, and D-listers do all kinds of cheesy things for attention.
Not surprising, ''Skating With Celebrities," which premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 25, is chock-full of opportunities for the inner spoofer. Essentially ''Dancing With the Stars" on ice, the new Fox show gives us six maybe-lebrities partnered with professional skaters for a few weeks of huffing, puffing, and bum bruising. See them practice like the ''Fame" kids; see them trip and fall; see their egos get ice-picked apart by the judges.
Bruce Jenner is on board as the requisite ''old guy," a slot that the oh-so-dashing John O'Hurley perfected on ''Dancing With the Stars." Actually, Jenner is more like the show's ''old boy," since he's 55 but has a face that seems to be straining toward boyhood. Tonight, Jenner and his skating partner, Tai Babilonia, do a riff on ''An Officer and a Gentleman" that is stiff, kitschy, and yet somehow impressive. Like many of the celebrities on the show, Jenner has clearly spent time on the ice before this competition. He's not embarrassingly awful, at least not yet.
It's not exactly clear which celebrity player will serve as the rink jester, but I'm banking on Dave Coulier from ''Full House" over Todd Bridges from ''Diff'rent Strokes." Coulier, who's teamed with Kerrigan, is most comfortable as a hockey player, and his bluster is sure to ruffle a few feathers in the more pristine realm of figure skating. He's not bad tonight, as he and Kerrigan do a cutesy Blues Brothers routine, but he clearly operates by his own rules, as he shaves the tips off his skates.
And so it goes. The Fox eye-candy slots go to Jillian Barberie and Kristy Swanson, and the good girl is and will always be Deborah Gibson. But as ripe for ribbing as the cast members are, there's no denying that ''Skating With Celebrities," like ''Dancing With the Stars," requires them to display both ability and nerve. This isn't a bunch of losers rooming in the ''Surreal Life" house; it actually demands hard work. Ultimately, they risk themselves both physically in the rink and psychologically as they face the judges. They deserve some props.
The real meat of these shows are the judges, though, as Simon Cowell has proved so successfully on ''American Idol." ''Skating With Celebrities" has come up with the requisite Simon knockoff in Sir John Nicks, a coach who uses his British accent to add edge to comments such as ''Your artistry is nonexistent" and, as he tells Bridges tonight, ''Dump this program and go to plan B." Dorothy Hamill appears to have the honorary Paula Abdul spot, as she oozes maternal praise, and Mark Lund is the in-between dude. As a judging unit, they giveth praise, and they taketh it away.
The show is hosted by Summer Sanders and Scott Hamilton, who has a bit of a Bobcat Goldthwait shrill to his voice. Maybe ''SNL" can get Goldthwait to do a cameo.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.