By Ken Tucker
May 30, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT

Platinum Hit is Bravo’s attempt to do for songwriting what Top Chef does for food and Project Runway does for fashion — that is, to fill the TV screen with grasping talents, semi-talents, and egoists, offer them prize money and a career, and watch the beautiful creativity flourish!

The show is hosted by Jewel, who has become more Bravo-host-like in her look and demeanor — tight-dressed, high-heeled, and primly haughty in the Padma manner. But the bigger draw is judge Kara DioGuardi, who imports her American Idol style of critiquing most contestants as though she was granting them immense wisdom that, if not heeded, might lead not merely to eviction but to utter and complete failure in life. That’s how vehement DioGuardi is, non-stop — as a TV personality, she’s intense and exhausting. Watching Platinum Hit, you remember why DioGuardi was at once the most transfixing judge Idol ever had, and the most cluelessly unbearable.

Speaking of cluelessly unbearable, the premiere’s roll-out of songwriting talent had a majority of humans full of what passes for confidence on reality TV, which is unbridled arrogance, aloof entitlement, and an inability to concentrate on and listen to anything one of the other humans is saying.

As with almost every other current competition show, Platinum is a throwback to a show that was a hit 50 or 60 years ago. (Without Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour, no America’s Got Talent; without The Lawrence Welk Show, no Dancing With the Stars.) In this case, the idea of collaborating on pop songs under pressurized conditions is strongly reminiscent of tunesmith-factories such as the Brill Building, where in the 50s and 60s, teams such as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, churned out material for the likes of Bobby Vee, The Shangri-Las, and Paul Revere and the Raiders. (The songwriting talent tended to exceed the general quality of the artists, although I’d argue that Paul Revere and the Raiders are underrated.)

But the songwriting collaborations on Platinum Hit are designed to foster drama through friction and hostility, not friction and creativity. So are the challenges. Tasked with writing a song about “the City of Angels” — Los Angeles, where the show is set — we got a lot of dribble about making it, affixed to melodies that sounded ready-made. Or, in the case of Sonyae Elise, the aggressively yowled, “Love it or hate it! Love it or hate it!” — less a song than a piece of rock criticism about where punk rock went wrong. Unaccountably, DioGuardi loved Sonyae’s monotone rant; someone send Kara a box of Ramones albums.

There is a fundamental flaw of Platinum Hit. It’s true that when a chef on Top Chef is asked to come up with a theme dish, he or she is doing variations on dishes that contestant has made before, but the twist the producers build into a challenge forces something new. On Platinum Hit, however, I find it impossible to believe that every contestant doesn’t arrive with a head-full of hooks that he or she simply attaches, with little or no variation, to some new lyrics suitable to the assigned theme.

As a result of this belief, I don’t find Platinum Hit at all suspenseful. It’s simply curious and — as in the cases of prizing Sonyae’s yelling and leaving us to figure out why the flighty, tuneless Melissa Rapp was chosen at all — baffling. Kara told the contestants they each had “one second to grab us.” I’m not sure that an entire hour of Platinum Hit was enough to grab sufficient numbers of viewers who’d tune in for a second week. Are you?

Twitter: @kentucker