I wouldn’t have wanted to be in the programming department of The CW when the folks over there first heard that the Sci-Fi Channel had beaten them to the punch in the field of horror-themed game show, but I can only imagine the sigh of relief they released after taking a gander at “Estate of Panic.” I received a screener of the premiere episode, and I duly handed it over to my wife, whose fascination with scary movies is, if not quite an obsession, certainly a bit of a hobby; after watching it, she duly reported back that she had lost a great deal of respect for Steve Valentine for agreeing to host such a cheesy show, likening it more to “Fear Factor” than anything legitimately scary.

Even after this disappointment, however, I was still optimistic about The CW’s “13: Fear is Real,” if only because of the series’ executive producers: Sam Raimi, Robert G. Tapert, and Jay Bienstock. Horror fans will no doubt recognize the first two names, with Raimi having earned his genre stripes with the “Evil Dead” films and then teamed with Tapert to produce such flicks as “30 Days of Night,” “The Messengers,” “Boogeyman,” and “The Grudge.” Bienstock, meanwhile, is best known in reality-TV circles as the guy responsible for bringing “The Apprentice” to the airwaves. In theory, it’s hard to imagine that you could bring this trio together and not come up with a legitimately scary reality show.

The premise of “13: Fear Is Real” as laid out in the press release is thus: “Thirteen people compete to ‘stay alive’ as they face their deepest fears in an all-out elimination competition and scare-fest. Pitted against each other in situations straight from the horror movies, the 13 will face shocking surprises, psychological scares and lots of ‘beware of the dark’ moments, all designed by a ‘mastermind’ of terror.”

So, wait, is this when we cue the clip of Count Floyd saying, “Ooooh, scary“?

So why are these thirteen people participating in a program which is designed to scare the living hell out of them? Because there’s prize money involved: $66,666. Seems to me that you’d want to go with $666 or $666,666 for maximum evilness, but let us simply presume that the former wasn’t a sufficient amount and the latter was outside of The CW’s budget.

The voiceover used for the so-called “Mastermind” who’s playing this evil game with the contestants is so unabashedly reminiscent of “Saw” that you have to figure that someone from that franchise will try to get a lawsuit rolling, especially since there’s also a dummy involved in the first episode. Okay, maybe it’s more of a mannequin. Even so, it’s quite clear that the producers were trying desperately to invoke that famous franchise; similarly, the opening credits of the show are straight from the “Se7en” playbook.

But homages and/or outright rip-offs aside, what you really want to know is this: is it scary?

Actually, yeah, it kind of is…provided, of course, that you can successfully keep yourself from remembering that you’re watching a reality show. But there are plenty of moments where you can imagine that, if it was you out there in the dark woods, camped outside of a creepy ramshackle cabin, you’d be scared out of your wits. And not to give anything away, but if you’re claustrophobic, you’d be lucky to avoid slipping into hyperventilation during the so-called “execution ceremony” at the end of the first episode, where one of the contestants is “killed off.”

The show does have its annoying moments, not least of which are some of the contestants. Leah is the first one that we meet, and when her opening line is, “I’m afraid of the dark,” you wonder just how strapped for cash she had to be to volunteer for this show…and from there, you wonder if she’s going to be the first one to pipe up at a frightening moment. No spoiler here: she absolutely is. Anytime there’s so much as a creak, she’s instantly moaning something or other (“Oh, no, here we go…”), and she’s forever screaming or crying. I’m sure it must’ve seem liked a good idea to include someone in the group who’s suffering from nyctophobia, but, man, if there’s a character on this show you’re rooting to see get killed, it’s Leah.

But my biggest issue…and I say this as someone who enjoyed both “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield”…is that the series filmed in a really obnoxious manner. It’s a massive conglomeration of hand-held camerawork, close-up shots of the contestants’ faces, and poorly-lit sequences of frantic running. I guess it’s supposed to raise the tension level by making the viewer feel a part of the action, but I found it so annoying that I actually gave up on the show the first time I tried to watch it. You may feel differently. But I will say that I’m glad I went back and took another shot at viewing the screener, because although that aspect was still just as irritating the second time around, the material surrounding it is indeed a lot of fun.

“13: Fear Is Real” is probably the first reality show to air on The CW show that you won’t be embarrassed to tell people that you watch. It’s not high art, but it’s a clever, well-executed premise, and I’ll be tuning back in to see how it continues to play out.