Even in Hollywood, reality never seemed quite this bizarre.

Outfoxing saboteurs, dodging advances from g-strung beauties and performing physical feats of daring and endurance may bear little resemblance to real life for most, but then most don't have to sell millions of dollars in advertising each week.

With the new year upon us, network executives are gearing up to air a fresh slate of so-called "reality" shows that promise to raise eyebrows and perhaps ratings by offering television audiences a voyeur's view into the sweat, blood and tears of people willing to do just about anything for cold, hard cash.

The demand for new shows has producers going to great lengths to find themes that are wackier and more compelling than anything their competitors have come up with.

"It's become a matter of 'can you top this,' but only the good ones will work," said Brad Turell, executive vice president of communications for The WB Television Network. "If you know that this genre can hit a grand slam, like "Survivor" did, than you have to be in this genre."

American audiences will soon be asked to follow along as unmarried couples test their commitment (for money) against challenges posed by teams of semi-professional seducers in tropical Belize ("Temptation Island," Fox). In addition, contestants will compete in challenges (for money) as a spy in their midst seeks to trip them up ("The Mole," ABC), and beefy wrestler types with laser guns will chase people around the Hawaiian islands for thrills (and money) ("Manhunt," UPN).

If 2000 was the summer of "Survivor," then 2001 is shaping up as the year of the "Survivor" wannabe.

And whether or not any of the new shows on the network horizon match the success of the CBS hit, which triggered an industry-wide race to develop similar programming, the reality genre is here to stay, most analysts say.

As always, the fortunes of individual shows will be closely tied to ratings in 2001, but the advantageous economics of reality programming make such fare a sure bet to proliferate in an industry where nearly 90 percent of new offerings fail in their first year. The bottom line is that most reality programs from Fox's long-running "Cops" to ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" to CBS's "Big Brother," can be churned out at a fraction of the cost of sit-coms and dramas.


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