General News

Survivor, Weakest Link

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Apr 26, 2001 | 1:09pm EDT

As reality and primetime game show programming booms, the networks are scrambling to fill their slates with the latest and greatest.

Not just because the shows pulls in the ratings. The networks need a final answer to the looming writers and actors strikes.

Each major network has made serious plans to include this relatively cheap but very popular form of programming in their schedules. This ranges from the tired and true shows, such as ABC's Who Wants to be a Millionaire and CBS' Survivor, to NBC's newest game show entry The Weakest Link and Fox's Boot Camp.

These shows will not be affected in the event of the strikes. The programming would easily fill spots left empty by sitcoms and dramas -- and television audiences can't seem to get enough of them.

Here's a look at what's coming up:

NBC

The Weakest Link This widely popular game show in Britain is finally getting its U.S. airing this week at 8 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The contestants play as a team in seven rounds of rapid-fire questions to win money. If a player is considered "weak," he or she is voted off. Only one contestant will walk away with the money.

The show's host, Anne Robinson, has been called a British Cruella De Vil because of her sharp tongue and nasty comments to the players. The marketing surrounding the show has been relentless, with half the nation already quoting, "You ARE the weakest link. Goodbye!"

Lost!: Three pairs of strangers are let loose in New York City with few essentials and little cash. They must find their way back to the starting point to win the game.

Jeff Zucker, NBC's new entertainment president, told the Hollywood Reporter that the Peacock network is ready to step up its reality and nonfiction development. Zucker and West Coast president Scott Sassa are aware of the need to deliver reality programming in keeping with the network's upscale image, he said.

"We're not going to do reality shows just because we don't have any on the air right now," Zucker said. "We're fully conscious of the network's profile."

CBS

Survivor: The juggernaut that is Survivor continues to build momentum as the second installment, surviving in the Australian Outback, repeatedly beats its competitors in the 8 p.m. Thursday timeslot. The network is nearing production on a third installment, its location still be announced.

The Tiffany Network also is developing several more reality-based shows, including an updated, more innovative version of last year's Big Brother. The show features a group of people who must stay in a house and be watched 24-hours a day.

According to sources close to the network, The Amazing Race also is in development. Eleven couples race around the world. The first to cross the finish line wins $1 million.

CBS is preparing for the strikes with reality programming, miniseries and made-for-TV movies. But based on a study conducted by New York-based advertising agency TN Media on how the strikes will effect television viewership, Stacey Lynn Koerner, the agency's vice president of broadcast research, told The Associated Press: "CBS is more of a mystery. It's hard to tell whether they're less prepared or whether [CBS president] Leslie Moonves is holding things close to the vest."

ABC

Who Wants to be a Millionaire: Even if the ratings are down overall, this popular game show with the tireless Regis Philbin remains ABC's top-rated program. Recently, it received a major boost in ratings when one contestant won more than $2 million, the biggest prize ever won on a television game show.

The Mole: ABC's reality show, which aired earlier this year, did not do half as well as Survivor, but did well enough to warrant a second installment. In the show, a group is stranded and must survive. At the same time, the group must discover who among them is a "mole," someone who sabotages plans.

ABC also is developing The Runner, an interesting concept loosely based on the sci-fi story by Stephen King. This would includes the use of Internet. The premise: a contestant who will win $1 million if he or she can travel around the country for 28 days without being caught. The catch is viewers can participate via the Web site by finding clues on the player's whereabouts. If a viewer becomes an "agent," by signing up on the Web site and help "catch" the contestant, they will win prizes.

According to the TN Media report, ABC looks the best at riding out the storm if strikes were to happen. With Millioniare on four times a week, plus the two reality programs and NFL's Monday Night Football, the network may not have to show as many reruns.

Fox

Boot Camp: Even as CBS is suing the show, calling it a Survivor rip-off, the ratings are strong. Regular folks are faced with extreme challenges, all the while berated by an irate drill sergeant. The third episode, which aired Tuesday, won its time slot. Expect a second edition of Boot Camp next year.

Temptation Island: The somewhat amoral but hugely popular reality program, which aired earlier this year, will return. The premise: couples are sent to a romantic and remote location to be "tempted" by strangers of the opposite sex.

Fox also could be sitting pretty during the strikes. It will not only have Temptation Island 2 but will be airing the baseball playoffs and World Series, as stated in the TN Media report. The network has stockpiled at least 55 episodes of new series.

Koerner doesn't anticipate a long strike doing lasting damage to the business as a whole.

"Viewers love television," she said. "They may get annoyed for the period of time that their favorite shows are off the air, but once they're back on the air, they will come back."

And viewers have the added bonus of watching a lot of regular folk doing outrageous things for roughly a $1 million to look forward to.

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