“Darling, I’m sorry, you’re not on the list.” Kathy Hilton’s lightly buttered kiss-offs of kiss-ups are easier on the ears than Donald Trump’s brusque “You’re fired” bazooka shots at the end of NBC’s “The Apprentice.” Her hair also easily beats his.

Otherwise, the network’s “I Want to Be a Hilton” is a virtual facsimile of The Donald’s first big TV trump card. Teams are formed, tasks are assigned and dirt is dished before one supplicant hits the cold, hard bricks of Manhattan for a backseat ride back to Dullsville.

“Can they live up to the standards of New York’s elite?” asks an effete narrator who sounds like George Hamilton in a too-tight Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. Can they make it in Manhattan, “the epicenter of American culture and society?”

The Hilton acolytes first gather at Grand Central Terminal before being whisked to a private cocktail party, overseen from overhead by Kathy Hilton. Miraculously, no one sees her until she breezes in and gifts each of the 14 with a silver spoon. They’re then divided into Park and Madison teams. Awesome.

Park member Jaret Cellmer, a cowboy-hatted 26-year-old from Texas, is billed on-screen as a “telephone salesman.” That’s a bit out of sync with his official NBC biography, which also says he’s a former high school track star and Texas Tech University grad who’s now teaching kindergarten. He supposedly “refers to himself as a sophisticated redneck.” Perfect.

Another Texan is 26-year-old Jabe Robinson, from just south of Fort Worth. Assigned to the Madison team, he’s a “ranch hand” for the purposes of “Be a Hilton.” Jabe’s NBC bio otherwise fleshes him out as a septic tank installer who owns both his own construction company and a mule named Hank. The “hunky bachelor is quite the ladies man,” it also says. Excellent.

Jaret and Jabe of course get the usual Texas treatment. Both are depicted as nice enough guys who otherwise wouldn’t know a good bottle of wine from a quart of Pennzoil.

“I never tried caviar,” said twangy Jaret. “It just made me cry. I couldn’t even see. It was just horrible.”

As for Jabe, he wouldn’t try caviar again, at least “not without Tabasco.”

Jaret later marvels at Kathy Hilton’s footwear. “Definitely her shoes cost more than our mobile home,” says he.

Jabe – “We have a hillbilly,” says a fellow team member – is likewise impressed with the show’s first freebie. “I’ve never had a silver spoon,” he says. “I’m kinda wonderin’ what it’s worth.”

It’s later learned that sodbuster Jabe shops at Wal-Mart. So this makes him the logical choice – by the rival Park team – to buy Kathy a hostess gift with a $100 limit. They figure he’ll screw it up, and Jabe doesn’t exactly disappoint. He purchases 4 1/2 pounds of chocolate and then has a saleslady write “To Kathy” with a black felt pen on the gift wrap.

In the second episode, Jabe said “dad-gum” while Jaret says that his omnipresent cowboy hat came from a trash container. Later he strips down to his underwear and goes swimming because “I haven’t been to a beach in about 15 years.”

There’s other comic relief, not all of it completely condescending or stereotypical. Yvette, a full-of-herself Las Vegas dancer, quickly clashes with drama queen Latricia, a plus-size motor vehicles clerk. Alain, a perfume salesman, comes off as a laughable twit, and pontificating plumber Johnny from Queens is a Rob Mariano starter kit.

After a brief enrollment in “etiquette boot camp,” the contestants expect to be ready for dinner at the snooty 21 Club. But in a shocking twist, only one member of each team gets to dine with Kathy Hilton and her three ooh-la-la guests. They are NBC-owned “Queer Eye’s” Ted Allen (him again?), NBC-owned “Access Hollywood’s” Billy Bush (him again?) and Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia (come again?).

Jabe, thrown to these wolves as the Madison team’s representative, is first chastised for not wearing a required jacket. But he does manage a snappy comeback after escargot is served.

“They have snails in Texas,” Jabe’s informed by Allen.

“Yessir,” he said. “We just don’t eat ‘em.”

Atta boy.

Not to spoil any of the spine-tingling suspense, but look for the two Texans to stick to the wall for awhile. Jabe, for one, seems to have the proper perspective.

“As bad as it is, it still beats shovelin’ pig crap, though,” he said of being on “Be a Hilton,” which is scheduled to run for eight weeks.

By the way, the winner gets a $200,000 trust fund, a new apartment and wardrobe, “the opportunity to live the high life” for a year and “access to the Hilton Rolodex.”

The show just might be dumb enough – and sometimes even entertaining enough – to become a summertime hit. If so, how about a spin-off? Maybe Jaret and Jabe could be Paris Hilton’s new, down-to-earth traveling companions on “The Simple Life.”


9 p.m. EDT Tuesday


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