Peacock will follow the flock

Competition: Doses of `reality' force NBC to play catch-up.

July 19, 2000|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

LOS ANGELES - Acknowledging that they misjudged the appeal of programs such as CBS' "Survivor," NBC's top executives are joining the race to put more "reality" on the air.

They indicated yesterday during a news conference that their first entry will be an import from the Netherlands titled "Chains of Love," which features a woman chained to four men, who she casts off one by one until settling on her ideal mate.

"It's a relationship show," said Garth Ancier, president of NBC Entertainment.

When the critics gathered here for the Summer Press Tour exploded in laughter, he said sternly, "I wasn't trying to be funny."

Indeed, there's nothing amusing for Ancier or Scott Sassa, president of NBC West Coast, in not having a reality series to compete with ABC's game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" or the CBS drama "Survivor," the mega-hits of last summer and this summer. The industry trade publication Variety has reported that both men's jobs are in jeopardy.

"NBC has dropped the ball on reality programming, and we're trying to catch up. Reality programming isn't a fad, it's a trend," Sassa said, adding that no pre- miere date could be announced because NBC is still negotiating for rights to "Chains of Love."

In fact, reality shows have been so popular that ABC programmed "Millionaire" four nights a week.

"You couldn't do four `ER's' a week if you wanted to," Sassa said. "The logistics and economics of production make it impossible."

Even more alarming, Sassa said that "the line between what's acceptable and what's not has been blurred" by reality series that also include CBS' "Big Brother."

Sassa, who previously pledged himself to such values as more family programming and less offensive language, indicated that NBC would follow what the other networks were doing in terms of pushing the limits of taste. "It's always tough to decide what's right and what's wrong," he said.

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