February 03, 2003 12:00 PM

CBS (check listings)

Adult singer, junior singer, comedian and model are the four official categories in this network revival of the syndicated talent-contest series that Ed McMahon fronted in the ’80s and ’90s. But with Arsenio Hall in the house, we can’t help focusing on the one-man category of host.

“Let’s get this party started,” Hall says, trying to reestablish the fanatically upbeat mood of his late-night show, which got the ax back in 1994. And he has a new catchphrase—”Hit me with the digits!”—when it’s time to total up the scores. Some of his quips are dated—Leon Spinks? Ebonics?—but Hall crams in as many as possible before he has to step aside and let the contestants display their gifts.

Like him or not, Hall is about the only reason to watch this retread (airing Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET in January before the big finale Feb. 6). The judges surely aren’t earning many points, what with Ben Stein’s forced political references and Naomi Judd’s phony homespun wisdom. Hall keeps boasting that Star Search is live, but there’s something to be said for editing out embarrassments. The Jan. 15 episode ended in a sea of confusion over the rules.

BOTTOM LINE: Search elsewhere

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