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TELEVISION REVIEW

His new deal is pulling pranks

Howie Mandel makes use of hidden cameras on ''Howie Do It.'' Howie Mandel makes use of hidden cameras on ''Howie Do It.'' (Ben Mark Holzberg/NBC)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / January 9, 2009
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When you're on your deathbed, and the TV angel comes to soothe your fevered brow, and she tenderly asks if you have any regrets, and your first thought is, "I should have watched more Howie Mandel," then have I got a show for you.

It's called "Howie Do It," and it's a new, second NBC vehicle for the host of "Deal or No Deal." Premiering tonight at 8 on Channel 7, "Howie Do It" is strictly for those who consider themselves to be Mandel-ophiles and who proudly worship at his soul-patched shrine. It's for viewers who don't mind co-dependently feeding Mandel's flagrant love of attention. For the rest of us, though, this "Candid Camera" rip-off series is a boring bummer.

It's sad, really, how unimaginative "Howie Do It" is. Given all the resources at NBC's disposal, and given the fact that NBC is desperate to regain ratings footing, this is the best the executives could come up with? "Howie Do It" is about as ingenious as Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Standing before an adoring audience, Mandel introduces clips of old-fashioned hidden-camera pranks that make Ashton Kutcher's "Punk'd" sketches look like FBI sting operations.

In the first clip, a disguised Mandel tells two men that they're auditioning to be on a weather channel. He then has them read lines while being sprayed with a hose, as if they're outside in a storm. It's not funny the first time, or the 10th time, either. Another prank has a man auditioning for a job as a bunny who sings telegrams. But guess what: Howie and Co. send him to a fake funeral, where the fake widow asks him to sing to her fake husband's dead body - and then the body steps out of the fake coffin. The man in the bunny suit is shocked! Hilarity - or fake hilarity - ensues.

Oddly, when Mandel wears a wig so that the mark won't recognize him, and his face is framed by stringy locks of dark hair, he looks a lot like Tommy Lee. But still, I found it hard to believe that the marks didn't recognize Mandel while he was punking them. I also kept wondering if some of the marks were aware they were being filmed for a reality show, since they don't seem entirely shocked.

Not that the audience doesn't love-love-love watching these clips. The hour is peppered with shots of audience members busting their guts because the pranks are so darn hysterical. And if "Howie Do It" does become a hit, I guess there's a silver lining after all. Beginning next week, the show will be the lead-in for the return of "Friday Night Lights." Mandel could be a questionable means to a valuable end.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

HOWIE DO IT Starring: Howie Mandel

On: NBC, Channel 7

Time: Tonight, 8-9

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