‘World’s Best’ takes on ‘AGT’
CBS talent newcomer premieres Sunday.
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.”
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.