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Review - Live to Dance

CBS has to be quietly laughing its corporate ass off, having managed to, er, "borrow" from Fox twice - with one program. While Fox plots the renovated "American Idol," CBS offers up former judge Paula Abdul - promoted to exec producer and "lead expert," no less - and her unique brand of crazy with this "So You Think You Can Dance" knockoff. Sitting in the middle, Abdul's wacky persona made for plenty of generous scores, extending one lonely gold star to aspiring dance acts that her fellow judges nixed. For CBS, it's a no-lose placeholder, if straight up hard to watch.

Chasing a $500,000 prize, "Live to Dance's" no-age-limit contest featured the requisite mix of adorable oldsters, creepily made up kids and everyone in between.

Like the "Idol" audition shows, the premiere offered quick-cut snippets as well as longer performances. But the bloated two-hour launch was, inevitably, dominated by Abdul's frozen smiles and half-baked New Age platitudes - the kind of utterances that would send most folks who don't watch a lot of daytime TV rushing to an "Oprah made easy" dictionary.

One ensemble "made one humongous bright shining star," Abdul gushed, and in this showcase, she's given the last word, even if her first words were usually incomprehensible. On the plus side, there was no slurring or other "What's wrong with her?" moments, but hey, this was only night No. 1.

As for the other judges, Travis Payne and Kimberly Wyatt, they were efficient but completely nondescript, as was host Andrew Gunsberg. Payne did break down (as the crowd chanted "Change your mind") and pass a trio of former "Solid Gold" dancers into the next round, in an act of affirmative action for women over 40 - which, come to think of it, is long overdue on television.

There's only one reason to watch, in other words, and that's for those immersed in Abdul-ology - either uplifted, or amused, by her manner of speech ("All of you can shine") and touchy-feely attitude. She's an inspirational figure, whether that involves genuine emotion or devising drinking games, take your pick.

Mercifully, "Dance" will shrink back to an hour on Wednesdays following this preview, until "Survivor" reclaims the timeslot.

That's appropriate, since Abdul is certainly a showbiz survivor - dancing on an invisible high wire just as fast as she can.

Co-executive producer, Clay Murphy; senior supervising producer, Adam Shapiro; director, Matthew Diamond; casting, Lynne Spillman. 120 MIN.

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