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Pauly D without Snooki, and ‘Punk’d’ without Ashton Kutcher

On “The Pauly D Project” DJ goofs with pals including wingman Ryan Labbe.

On “The Pauly D Project,” the DJ goofs with pals including wingman Ryan Labbe.

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‘PUNK’D’ ★★

9 to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays on MTV


9:30 to 10 p.m. Thursdays on MTV

Updated: April 29, 2012 8:04AM

Given that “Jersey Shore” is the highest-rated series in MTV history, the likelihood of at least one spinoff was as high as the bacteria count in the cast’s hot tub.

The first of two “Shore” offshoots debuts Thursday with “The Pauly D Project.” The 12-episode series centers on DJ Paul “Pauly D” Delvecchio, arguably the most well-adjusted member of the “Jersey Shore” crew. (Read: bad choice to anchor a reality TV show.)

“ ‘Jersey Shore’ made me famous, but now it’s time for me to show the world what I’m all about,” Pauly says.

Replies the world: We already knew what you were all about — hooking up, beating up the beats and getting cross-eyed wasted with your buddies. It’s not more interesting to watch just because you’re doing it in the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas with friends from Rhode Island as opposed to the meatballs from Seaside Heights.

The cameras follow along as Pauly lands a summer residency spinning tunes at the Palms. Riding his coattails is an assortment of hometown pals who knew Pauly when he was just a struggling DJ at Ultra nightclub in “the smallest state in the world.”

“This is the biggest night of my entire life, and everybody’s career rides on my DJ set,” Pauly says in a lame attempt to drum up dramatic tension. (The crowd is so blitzed, he could have read the Gettysburg Address and they would have screamed for more.)

Pauly’s entourage includes Michael “Biggie” Morgan, the road manager who pines for his girlfriend while the rest of the gang hops aboard the nightly ho train. There’s also Pauly’s bodyguard and confidante, Gerard “Big Jerry” Gial­a­nella, and his “go-to wingman” and angry drunk, Ryan Labbe.

Their penthouse suite at the Palms is a lot fancier than the tacky beach house back in Seaside. But the group’s personalities and their exploits pale in comparison to the Ron Ron juice-chugging, Jersey Turnpike-dancing cast of the “Shore.” And as those sunscreen-shunning, sloppy drunks will attest, pale is never good.

At the same time MTV is spinning off one series, it’s resurrecting another.

The prankster comedy “Punk’d” returns Thursday, five years after the Ashton Kutcher-hosted show went off the air.

This time Kutcher, co-executive producer of the new version, is handing over the hosting reins to a stable of celebrities.

Taking turns each week will be pop stars Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, “Twilight” actor Kellan Lutz and “Jackass” daredevil Bam Margera, among others. Their job is to “punk” other celebrities by getting them to fall for elaborate pranks and catching their shocked responses on film, a la “Candid Camera.”

It’s a decent, if not original, formula for harmless fun. Who doesn’t like seeing people — especially almighty celebrities — get duped? But I got more than my fill during the four years with Kutcher at the helm. My guess is the people who will want to watch “Punk’d” now were still in grade school back then; this latest incarnation might as well be a brand new show as far as they’re concerned.

Unsuspecting celebrity marks throughout the upcoming season include Khloe Odom Kardashian, “Teen Wolf’s” Tyler Posey, actor Zac Efron and “Jersey Shore’s” mom-to-be Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, who’s filming her own “Shore” spinoff with Jenni “J-Woww” Farley.

In the Bieber-hosted “Punk’d” pilot, singer Taylor Swift is tricked into thinking she set a boat on fire, causing a bride and groom to jump into the Pacific. The agonized look on Swift’s face was a mix of “I’m going to jail” and “Can I write a song about this?”

MTV crows that “Punk’d” is being taken to “a whole new level” this season, and the curtain is being pulled back to give viewers an “inside look at what goes on behind the scenes to pull off these elaborate pranks.”

It sure felt a lot like the same old show to me, just with different faces.

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