‘World’s Best’ takes on ‘AGT’

CBS tal­ent new­comer pre­mieres Sun­day.

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Bill Keveney

LOS AN­GE­LES – Re­al­ity mega-pro­ducer Mark Bur­nett tweaked the “Amer­i­can Idol” for­mat with blind au­di­tions and spin­ning red chairs and came up with a big hit, “The Voice.”

Now, teamed with one-time “Idol” over­seer Mike Dar­nell, he’s got a new take on the va­ri­ety for­mat dom­i­nated by “Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent”: CBS’ “The World’s Best.”

The eight-episode in­ter­na­tional va­ri­ety com­pe­ti­tion gets a pres­ti­gious pre­miere slot right af­ter Su­per Bowl LIII Sun­day (ap­prox­i­mately 10 EST/7 PST). The show moves to Wed­nes­days at 8 EST/PST on Feb. 6 and then to 9 EST/ PST on Feb. 20.

So what’s the spin­ning-chair in­no­va­tion here? A wall. No, not that wall. The show’s Wall of the World is de­signed to be a uniter, not a di­vider, as 50 in­ter­na­tional ex­perts in Bol­ly­wood, bal­let, KPop and other fields sit in mul­ti­col­ored pods and weigh in – along with celebrity judges Drew Bar­ry­more, RuPaul Charles and Faith Hill – on per­form­ers from across the globe.

James Cor­den serves as the en­thu­si­as­tic host, up for try­ing a dif­fi­cult stunt or chat­ting with an in­ter­na­tional ex­pert.

“A lot of the fun is the in­ter­ac­tion with the acts and him try­ing to tightrope or (do) karate moves,” says ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Ben Win­ston, who holds the same ti­tle on Cor­den’s “The Late Late Show.” “Then, at the same time, he’s fas­ci­nated by a wrestler from Hawaii and he wants to chat with him.”

The brightly lit six-story struc­ture – a cross be­tween “The Hol­ly­wood Squares” and the “Star Wars” Ga­lac­tic Se­nate cham­ber – dom­i­nates the cav­ernous sound­stage, the home of “Idol.”

Dar­nell, re­mem­ber­ing how Bur­nett built a hit de­spite start­ing against a dom­i­nant “Idol,” now hopes to do the same for an­other stal­wart re­al­ity show. “What used to drive me nuts was that ‘Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent’ stood alone in the va­ri­ety space,” he says. “What ‘The Voice’ did to ‘Idol,’ this will do to ‘Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent.’”

Be­sides all the shiny ob­jects, the pro­duc­ers are tout­ing a unique judg­ing sys­tem, which cul­mi­nates with a dra­matic re­veal of per­former scores.

Dur­ing the first three au­di­tion episodes of the taped se­ries, the acts, more than two dozen se­lected from around the world, ad­vance if they meet a com­bined score thresh­old based on vot­ing by the judges and the 50 in­ter­na­tional ex­perts.

Sur­vivors di­vided into four cat­e­gories then move on to bat­tles, un­til four acts com­pete for the World’s Best ti­tle and $1 mil­lion in the March fi­nals.

Lead­ing a tour of the gi­ant set, Bur­nett sees “Voice”-like pos­si­bil­i­ties as he points out gi­ant LED screens and a vis­ual scor­ing sys­tem.

“Once the au­di­ence watches the scor­ing mech­a­nism with the drama and the ten­sion, there’s no way you’d want to do it any other way,” he says. “This feels very Olympics.”

But can the acts match the state-ofthe-art bells and whis­tles? The high-fly­ing, board-smash­ing South Korean Taek­wondo troupe Kukki­won takes its best shot when com­pe­ti­tion be­gins on a stage with LED screens that can flash a map of the world.

While some Las Ve­gas acts warn fans that they might get wet, “World’s Best” goes a step fur­ther, re­mov­ing spec­ta­tors from the first few rows be­fore Kukki­won’s per­for­mance to pre­vent in­juries. It’s not an empty bit of show­man­ship, ei­ther, as the young mar­tial artists smash wood boards and send shards fly­ing many rows deep.

“They have just de­lighted me,” Bar­ry­more says dur­ing a break, ex­press­ing sur­prise at the emo­tional pull of per­form­ers. “I didn’t know that would be an act I would be fall­ing on the sword for.”

The judges re­mem­bered an­other act, one they didn’t re­veal, that was just as im­pres­sive but in a dif­fer­ent way.

“You had tears in your eyes,” RuPaul says to Hill.

She nod­ded. “It was pow­er­ful and so quiet. It was art. It was thought­ful. It was im­pas­sioned.”

Acts in­clude singer Mon­go­lian Cow­boy; The Mir­a­cle Vi­olin­ist (Ja­pan); es­cape artist and ma­gi­cian Matt John­son (Great Bri­tain); sword swal­lower and chain­saw jug­gler Space Cow­boy (Aus­tralia); and young singers The TNT Boys (Philip­pines).

If the in­ter­na­tional va­ri­ety for­mat sounds fa­mil­iar, that’s be­cause “AGT,” TV’s top-rated sum­mer show, just launched a “Cham­pi­ons” for­mat – both to ex­tend the se­ries and blunt the im­pact of “World’s Best” – that fea­tures past win­ners and pop­u­lar acts from the global edi­tions of the show.

Bur­nett says there’s room for both. “‘Got Tal­ent’ and ‘ World’s Best’ can co­ex­ist,” he says. “We had ‘Idol,’ ‘X Fac­tor’ and ‘ The Voice’ all on TV and all won their time slots. There’s enough of an au­di­ence to go around.”

Dar­nell is less gen­er­ous, call­ing “Cham­pi­ons” a “re­tread” and boast­ing that “World’s Best” is big­ger and bet­ter.

“AGT: Cham­pi­ons” is “mostly Amer­i­can acts that have al­ready won here. And they’re also lim­ited to peo­ple who have been on ‘Tal­ent.’ We’re not,” he says. (“AGT” cre­ator Si­mon Cow­ell was dis­mis­sive when asked re­cently about “World’s Best”: “Not very orig­i­nal, and not in­ter­ested.”)

Cor­den en­joys the show’s unique judg­ing ar­range­ment.

“When we’ve got a ma­gi­cian com­ing on, how ter­rific to hear from these three judges but then go to our ex­pert, one of the best ma­gi­cians in his field from Scot­land,” Cor­den says. “Whether it’s a stunt man from Brazil or a high-wire cir­cus act ex­pert from Rus­sia, all these peo­ple can (ex­plain) why this per­son could be crowned the world’s best.”

TYLER GOLDEN/WARNER BROS. EN­TER­TAIN­MENT

South Korean Taek­wondo troupe, Kukki­won, takes flight on the new CBS va­ri­ety com­pe­ti­tion se­ries, “The World's Best,” which pre­mieres Feb. 3 af­ter Su­per Bowl LIII.

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