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'Find My Family' is surprisingly moving

'Dancing with the Stars' fades

You wouldn't know it from the lack of buzz, but one of TV's highest-rated shows winds down this week, as ABC's Dancing with the Stars crowns another winner during a two-hour finale at 8 p.m. Tuesday on WFTS-Ch. 28. Too many no-name "celebrities" who couldn't dance — yes, Tom DeLay, we're talking about you — have hurt this top-rated show, which often comes down to talented surprises competing against expected favorites. Here's who's left and how they might do:

Donny Osmond (with Kym Johnson): The favorite with Dancing's audience of older women, he's also the symbol of how cheesy the show has gotten. Always the pro, he'll work hard, but he's far from the show's best dancer. Odds: Even money.

Mya (with Dmitry Chaplin): This singer is the show's unexpected gem, emerging as the best dancer early on and never wavering. The only problem is, that makes for a boring show. Odds: 3 to 1 for the win.

Kelly Osbourne (with Louis Van Amstel): As the last contestant anyone expected in contention at the finals, Osbourne has a touching backstory and status as the plucky achiever. But Mya would have to break a toe for Osbourne to beat her performance. Odds: 2 to 1 against.

Maybe it's because I'm a parent. Or because I have adopted three kids myself. But I needed a whole lot of Kleenex to get through ABC's latest reality TV experiment, Find My Family. In the show, the network hunts down adopted kids or birth parents and reunites them — if all are willing.

The show debuts with a half-hour installment at 9:30 p.m. Monday on WFTS-Ch. 28, expanding to a full hour next week after Dancing with the Stars has concluded. And it is surprisingly moving to see the stories, carefully calibrated to feature birth parents and adopted kids who want to find each other, finding solace in restoring their relationships.

It also made me wonder: When did reality TV turn into a counselor's couch?

Look over on NBC's The Biggest Loser, and you'll see trainers doubling as therapists, encouraging their overweight contestants to spill bruising personal pain to help their weight loss (and score a juicy crying scene).

ABC's Supernanny is often a marriage counseling service disguised as parent coaching, with distant dads pushed to get involved with their families and dysfunctional couples encouraged to stop passing their relationship issues on to their kids.

And both A&E and VH1 have made cottage industries of showcasing psychological treatment in unscripted shows, from Celebrity Sex Rehab and Celebrity Fit Club to Intervention, Obsessed and Hoarders.

Now ABC is tugging heartstrings by helping adoptees and birth parents fill what can be the biggest hole in their psyches. The first episode presents a Wisconsin couple who gave up a daughter they had as teens nearly 30 years ago.

Married and raising three older children, the pair always regretted giving up their first child. I dare you to keep a dry eye when they dissolve into tears after learning she has been living 8 miles away from their home all that time.

The two stories shown in early episodes are uniformly uplifting. The second tale features a man trying to find his birth mother before his son ships off to Afghanistan, so they can know his medical history. It's a sure sign ABC is targeting women and families; just ask TLC how badly ratings can tank when the stars of your uplifting family show curdle into bitter divorcees sniping at each other in the press and on camera.

Find My Family's feel-good vibe made me flash back several years to a conversation with ABC's then-head of reality programming, who swore the channel was turning away from exploitation to find a new, more uplifting face for its unscripted fare.

Looks like the network has nailed that mojo in this series, creating an unscripted show with lots of heart and a positive lesson or two about the power of family. Viewers could do a lot worse on a Thanksgiving week.


The Jazz Baroness, 8 p.m. Wednesday, HBO: If you care at all about jazz and its history, this documentary will prove a fascinating trip through the early days of the style's most demanding strain, bebop. On the surface, it's the unlikely story of Pannonica "Nica" Rothschild, an eccentric descendant of the Roths­child European financial dynasty who reinvented herself as a patron of bebop jazz and maintained a 28-year platonic friendship with bipolar, demanding jazz genius Thelonious Monk. Quincy Jones, Clint Eastwood, Sonny Rollins and a host of others speak about the early days of the music — fighting racism, poverty, drug abuse and ill repute — while Oscar winner Helen Mirren provides the voice of Nica, who died in 1988.


Jon and Kate Plus 8, 8 p.m. Monday, TLC: The show that has kept paparazzi busy for most of the past year limps into its final episode this week, as the divorcing Jon and Kate Gosselin take their kids separately to different outings. Viewers have rejected the circus of back-and-forth sniping that has become the Gosselins' media lives, showing up mostly to see them confirm tabloid rumors of divorce in June before leaving the bitter pair behind. With any luck, Jon Gosselin's ongoing lawsuit will keep his soon-to-be ex from launching her solo show, too.

'Find My Family' is surprisingly moving 11/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 21, 2009 6:34pm]
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