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'The Cut' seems tailor-made for 16 outsize egos


One thing about the kind of people who imagine themselves to be America's next great fashion designer: Get a bunch of them in the same room, and there probably won't be any shortage of attitude, conflict or ugly me-me-me behavior.

That is the sad fact of modern-day, media-saturated life on which The Cut, a new CBS reality show featuring fashion mogul Tommy Hilfiger and 16 designer wannabes, is ultimately based. Think Donald Trump's The Apprentice (NBC) meets Heidi Klum's Project Runway (Bravo), and one will have a pretty good sense of what CBS is borrowing from and trying to create with this summer series that premieres tonight.

Like The Apprentice, the imagery of The Cut is all Manhattan skyline, bustling New York City streets and skyscrapers as great temples of commerce. The contestants arrive tonight at Hilfiger world headquarters in a state of awe, all but genuflecting before the giant red, white and blue company logo and the man who created it as he appears on a raised platform before them.

This is Camelot, he is Arthur, and they are squires and pages from throughout the kingdom come to win a seat at the table in the great man's boardroom. The winner will get $250,000 and the chance to design a line of clothing under Hilfiger's label.

But while Hilfiger certainly is one of the nation's great brand identities, the man himself is not as large or cartoonishly self-important as Trump. (And, while he certainly cuts a fine figure in the preppy clothes he designs, he's no Klum. So, who is?)

Which means the can't-look-away [See Cut, 5c] appeal of the show is going to have to come from somewhere else. Enter the nasty, back-stabbing, this-is-my-one-chance-at-the-glory-I-deserve contestants who live together in a fabulous SoHo loft.

There's Vlada: a 24-year-old "sales associate" at a department store in St. Louis who says she has "no issue with using sex" to get what she wants. Her signature piece of clothing is a Victoria's Secret "very sexy bra." She describes her taste in clothes as "the sexier, the better."

There's Jeff: a 42-year-old clothing salesman and married father of two from Chicago. In tonight's premiere, Vlada does a striptease at the edge of the loft's hot tub while Jeff sits naked under a bank of bubbles. Rather than explaining that he's a married man, Jeff keeps telling Vlada how lovely and "buxom" she looks as she peels away her clothes.

There's Elizabeth: a 30-year-old magazine editor from Beverly Hills. Her big moment comes when she blatantly tries to steal credit for the idea of another contestant -- and then lies like a dog when it looks as if she'll be exposed.

And Felix: a skateboarder and freelance designer from Los Angeles. Despite the fact that he's 35 and still using a skateboard to get around, Felix thinks everyone is beneath him -- and he's happy to let others know of his contempt. Elizabeth makes the mistake of trying to steal credit for his idea.

Hilfiger and the producers of this TV maze get the rats squealing and biting each other by breaking them into two teams of eight contestants and giving each unit a challenge: They have 48 hours to design Hilfiger billboards in Times Square. After the competition, they will meet back at Hilfiger headquarters for a Design Forum in which their work will be critiqued -- with one contestant eliminated by Hilfiger.

For all the talk of creativity among the self-promoting 16, the two billboards look more like scenery at a high school stage play than something that should tower over Times Square. "Underwhelmed" is the word Hilfiger politely chooses to describe his reaction.

One would like to predict that viewers will have the same reaction to the series. But there is something about the combination of "buxom" vamps, back-biting rats and reality TV that all too often spells success.

The Cut

Where: WJZ (Channel 13)

When: Tonight at 8

In Brief: The Apprentice meets Project Runway.

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