July 27, 2010 / 1:32 AM / 9 years ago

Tony Robbins' new NBC show a glorified infomercial

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It would be a lot easier to know what to make of NBC’s “Breakthrough with Tony Robbins” if it were possible to separate the actual breakthrough from Robbins’ upbeat motivational patter.

In the show, which premieres Tuesday, the two are intertwined, and viewers only can hope that the permanent breakthrough Robbins promises throughout the show actually will occur.

Robbins, among the best known of motivational speakers, has filled arenas and made a fortune parceling out such platitudes as “Confront your real issues” and “Exceed your expectations.” In this six-episode series, he tries to apply this advice to people facing big obstacles.

In the premiere, Robbins takes on the desperate case of Frank and Kristen Alioto. Their dream of a destination wedding in December 2008 in lovely Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, turned into a nightmare that same evening. Just hours after the ceremony, Frank jumped into the pool, broke his neck and became a quadriplegic. In moments, Kristen’s role changed from wife to caretaker, her duties performed between bouts of crying. For Frank, life became a series of pills taken with meals.

Can Robbins turn things around for this unlucky but loving couple? He promises them “greater joy and freedom than you ever knew before.” In return, Frank provides a commercial/testimonial for Robbins, one of the show’s executive producers. “I know Tony’s met with world leaders, and I know he’s met with important people, but now he’s taking time to talk with me.”

Magnanimous as that might seem, it is the raison d’etre for the show. Although Robbins delivers on his promise in one feel-good scene after another, there’s little here to indicate that the joy and freedom will remain after the production crew packs up. What’s more, there’s even less to indicate that the help he gives the Aliotos would be available to anyone else in a similar situation who lacked a seven-figure bank account.

Robbins flies the couple to his home island of Fiji for skydiving. Stateside again, he sends Kristen to a spa and outfits Frank for the wheelchair sport of murderball, a sort of rugby on wheels. (The show repeatedly refers to him as a quadriplegic, but he has some limited use of his arms.) And with lots of help from friends, Frank converts an old truck into a hand-controlled desert racer.

It’s heartwarming to watch Frank do things he never thought he could. And he and Kristen learn he isn’t as fragile as they thought. At the same time, other issues — from having children to changing catheters — never are adequately addressed.

So was this a life-altering breakthrough or a one-time Dream Factory-type experience? Could other paraplegics without the resources for trips to spas and Fiji even hope for their own breakthroughs? If not, the biggest breakthrough here might be the way in which an infomercial gets transformed into a network primetime TV series.

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