Sweating it out, cameras in tow

Times Staff Writer

"Tabloid Wars," a reality series that begins tonight on Bravo, is a ride-along with the reporter-schleppers and editors at the New York Daily News, the tabloid that competes for daily subway supremacy with its principal rival, the New York Post.

The show presents an old-school, grubby, boots-up look at daily tabloid journalism; I'm pretty sure I never heard the word "blog" or the phrase "most page views" during the first two episodes.

That's where the new front in the newspaper wars is, on Wall Street and the Web, as corporate-owned old gray ladies adapt to the digital age of information consumption. But the Daily News, which has been around since 1919, seems locked in a simpler, more quaint quest right out of Evelyn Waugh -- it just wants to have a juicier scoop than the Post and a more titillating headline to trumpet the next morning.

To that end, "Tabloid Wars" doesn't tell you anything you don't already know: When Robert De Niro's housekeeper allegedly absconds with expensive jewelry, reporters from the Daily News and the Post compete to get the better story, a photo and, failing any of that, at least a quote from somebody who might have known the accused.

The Post's absence from the series makes it the other guy, offstage, which mitigates whatever tension the producers had hoped to build.

Still, there's a protagonist here: Kerry Burke, a hard-nosed reporter who comes off almost like a journalistic Sherpa -- a guy with a thick Massachusetts accent in a shirt, tie and jeans, a backpack over his shoulder, knocking on door after door.

It's Burke who's sent to Howard Beach after word comes of a beating on the street there, in what his editors begin to shape as a racially motivated attack in the Queens neighborhood with a notorious racial history.

"Sometimes you're out there, and you know the clock is dying, you know the paper's going to bed," Burke says in voice-over as we see him trolling for a quote well after dark. "I shift gears and knock a little harder, and I push a little harder."

Requiem for the veteran late-cops guy. At that point, I wanted to see what Burke ate, how he lived; I was ready to invest in a scripted series on him, wherein, say, we learn that he lives with his sister and harbors a secret crush on a dispatcher in one of the precincts he frequents.

The rest of the "cast" of "Tabloid Wars" doesn't much pique your imagination in that way -- the editor in chief, the gossip team of Rush & Molloy, a city editor, etc.

Shot over three months last summer, "Tabloid Wars" does convey the hardscrabble life of the ink-stained wretch, but that's kind of all it conveys. For a reality show, it's thin on self-dramatization. You know this is an actual newspaper because everybody's slightly dead-eyed.

On "Work Out," by contrast, everybody is toned, buffed, half-naked and ready to chat up the camera. The show is infinitely more Bravo, more "Project Runway" or "Queer Eye" or "Blow Out" -- part of the network's burgeoning, unofficial block of gay-themed or gay-savvy or gaydar-ish-programming.

"Work Out" stars a lesbian, Jackie Warner, who owns a trainers-only gym on the outskirts of Beverly Hills. But more significant, it stars a lesbian relationship -- the show could as easily have been called, I don't know, "The L Word," as we watch an entertaining and convincing train wreck of a relationship unfold between passive-aggressive control freak Jackie and her pouty, clingy, moody girlfriend, Mimi.

This week, see Mimi sulk after Jackie takes her trainers on a retreat and fails to make an "I love you" check-in call.

Next week, see Jackie's conservative mother come for a visit and blanch at the news that Jackie's thinking about freezing her eggs.

Despite the spiky hair and the rock-hard body, Jackie comes off as a more likable, earthier narcissist than fellow Bravo actor-outer Jonathan Antin of "Blow Out."

It's a spinoff of the salon. In this way, Bravo is taking you into another exclusive temple of self-improvement. The rest of "Work Out," the less interesting part, has to do with the personalities and backbiting at Sky Sport & Spa, where Jackie's trainers alternately pump and primp their on-camera selves.

I feared the show would make me feel fat; mostly, though, I felt overdressed. Overdressed and left in the presence of muscle men with oodles of time on their hands to gossip. Hey, fellas, wanna break up the sewing circle and help me find my abs?


'Tabloid Wars'

Where: Bravo

When: 9 tonight

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)


'Work Out'

Where: Bravo

When: 9 p.m. Tuesdays

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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