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''Less Than Perfect,'' ''Celebrity Cooking Showdown''

By RD Heldenfels Published: April 18, 2006

Big night for viewing and recording -- ''Idol,'' ''Gilmore,'' ''Veronica,'' ''House,'' ''The Unit,'' VH1's telecast of ''Love Monkey'' ... but not ''Less Than Perfect,'' which returns to the ABC lineup.

I have seen tonight's ''Less Than Perfect'' and more beyond that, and it makes me sad. This used to be a reliable if unremarkable comedy, good for a laugh or two, with a charming star in Sara Rue. Now Rue's pursuit of weight loss and conventional beauty has made her less charming, and the show itself is floundering, searching for a new direction and unable to find it.

I caught the first installment of ''Celebrity Cooking Showdown'' last night and thought they should rename it ''Flat Iron Chef.'' It's managed to take all the charm and kookiness out of ''Iron Chef'' and replace it with product promotion, dubious competition and unnecessary twists. (Oh, no! I must run to the pantry for my MISSING INGREDIENT! Oh, thank goodness -- a real chef can help me for two minutes!) I lost track of how many times host Alan Thicke said the competition was ''heating up.'' I kept expecting that a cooking mishap was going to hurt Cindy Margolis in an overexposed place.

I know, it's supposed to appeal to the same audience as ''Dancing With the Stars'' (and ''Celebrity Boxing'') by showing semi-famous people trying out an unfamiliar task. But a lot of ''Dancing'' was really bad, and ''Cooking Showdown'' is even worse.

That said, I can understand why NBC put it on. The network is having a lot of trouble in the ratings, and the one thing that has kept it from total collapse is ''Deal or No Deal.'' And if viewers will tune to ''Deal,'' then why not ''Cooking Showdown''? But that's a decision about tactics, not putting on good shows.

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