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Ready or not, more reality television

Sunday, January 05, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Fox's "American Idol" doesn't return until Jan. 21, but its imitators are out in full force this week.

Just when the "reality" TV trend seemed to wane, it's back in full force. All it took was a single hit and the networks zigged to re-embrace the reality genre faster than they zagged to avoid it after so many flops.

TV PREVIEWS

"High School Reunion"
When: 9 tonight on The WB.

"Joe Millionaire"
When: 9 p.m. tomorrow on Fox.

"Star Search"
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday on CBS.

"The Bachelorette"
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday on ABC.

"Celebrity Mole"
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday on ABC.

"The Surreal Life"
When: 9 p.m. Thursday on The WB.

This week's overkill of unscripted series breaks down into three categories: talent contest ("Star Search"), relationship show ("Bachelorette," "Joe Millionaire," "High School Reunion") and C-list stars ("Celebrity Mole," "The Surreal Life").

Talent contest

Andrew Golder, executive producer of CBS's revival of "Star Search," said networks have been looking to revive the variety show for several years, but high ratings for "American Idol" pointed the way.

"The phenomenal success of 'Idol' made it easier for the network to say, 'OK, let's do that,' " Golder said.

Arsenio Hall will host the new "Star Search," which will air live twice a week and will include competitions for adult singers, junior singers, comics and "supermodels."

Relationship

The tables turn in ABC's "The Bachelorette" as 29-year-old Trista Rehn, runner-up on the first "Bachelor" edition, meets 25 men and begins the televised courtship.

Fox offers a wicked twist on the original "Bachelor" as 20 women vie for "Joe Millionaire." They think he's a dashing millionaire. Turns out 28-year-old Evan Marriott, the average Joe of the title, is no millionaire. He's a construction worker that Fox says earns $19,000 a year.

Mike Fleiss, creator of ABC's "The Bachelor," attempts a different sort of relationship series on The WB's "High School Reunion." Rather than introducing people who have never met, Fleiss' show brings together high school "types" 10 years after their graduation from a Chicago school, including "the popular girl," "the bully," "the cool guy" and "the nerd."

Sent to Hawaii for two weeks, Fleiss said drama was a natural by-product.

"Everybody has strong feelings about their high school experience, whether it was positive or negative," Fleiss said. "Everybody has something to prove when they go back to their high school reunion. We looked for people who had goals, who wanted to change their image or hook up with somebody they've been dreaming about for 10 years."

Just don't expect to see anyone [begin itals] too [end itals] unattractive or unpopular.

"We need good-looking people. This is The WB, they've got the sexiest-looking people on TV. That was an important criteria for us. They had to be telegenic. I always turn away people when they're fat or ugly for all kinds of reasons."

C-list stars

The most desperate new reality series has to be The WB's "The Surreal Life," which forces seven washed-up celebrities to live together.

MC Hammer ("Can't Touch This"), Emmanuel Lewis ("Webster"), Brande Roderick ("Baywatch"), Corey Feldman ("The Goonies"), Gabrielle Carteris ("Beverly Hills, 90210"), Vince Neil (Motley Crue) and Jerri Manthey ("Survivor: The Australian Outback") do the dishonors.

The celebs recruited for a celebrity edition of "The Mole" at least get to play a game.

Actress/comedian Kim Coles ("Living Single") said she was never a fan of "reality" shows before appearing in "Celebrity Mole," but she got addicted to the mystery of a past "Mole" season after watching tapes the producers sent her. That the celebrity edition filmed for 10 days in Hawaii didn't hurt.

"It's a great opportunity to be seen, and what actor or performer doesn't want that?" Coles said. "People get to see your real personality. That's what reality shows do offer -- you get to see people at their best and worst."

Coles said she's somewhat nervous about how she'll appear in scenes when she "absolutely forgot" the cameras were there.

"I was also PMS-ing that week and Stephen Baldwin was getting on my nerves," she said. Coles worried she wouldn't get along with comedian Kathy Griffin, but Baldwin turned out to be the thorn in her side.

"We're going to have a reunion show and I'm going to be pleasant with him, but he is annoying. He is a piece of work. He really is too much. I can't take him. He's just not my cup of tea."

Other celebrities playing the game are Corbin Bernsen ("L.A. Law"), Michael Boatman ("Spin City") and Erik von Detten ("Dinotopia").

Coles said she's "cool with 'The Mole,'" but she has no interest in appearing on the E! series "Star Dates," where celebrities are taped going on blind dates.

"I can meet enough losers on my own," Coles said. "I don't need E! to hook me up."


You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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