ABC is back on crack.
The network that swore, after its very ugly "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" ratings meltdown, that it would never again get hooked on reality junk, today announced it would air five more such shows before May and an additional six in the summer.
Though ABC Entertainment TV Group Chairman Lloyd Braun insisted that the programs are "like ice cream," ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne admitted that "reality can be like crack," during the ABC executive Q&A here today at Winter TV Press Tour 2003.
But she swore they'd use only Wednesdays at 9 and 10 p.m. and Thursdays at 9 p.m. -- time slots in which, Braun acknowledged, the network needs "a quick fix."
Except, of course, during the soon-to-begin February sweeps, when ABC will mainline "I'm a Celebrity -- Get Me Out of Here!" for 15 consecutive nights.
The ABC suits dismissed suggestions that they were damaging the ABC brand to lure more young viewers with series like "Are You Hot: The Search for America's Sexiest People" and the next edition of the plastic-surgery competition "Extreme Makeover."
"I don't think NBC was hurt too badly with 'Fear Factor,' " said Braun. "A show like 'Extreme Makeover' can coexist with 'The Practice.' "
"We're being extraordinarily careful," he asserted when asked by one caring critic whether the network hadn't once again turned into a crackhead.
ABC actually resisted the urge to air a "Bachelor" special after the wrap of the show's second edition, Braun noted, adding, "Do you know how tempting that was?"
Braun insisted the network has distinguished itself in the genre by seeking programs "that are original and not shamelessly derivative of other shows."
Snickering critics asked later about the striking similarities between ABC's new "I'm a Celebrity -- Get Me Out of Here!" and CBS's "Survivor."
"Get it from the judge," Braun shot back. "It's completely different."
A federal court judge in Manhattan ruled on Monday that "I'm a Celebrity" does not infringe on CBS's "Survivor" copyright. In the ABC show, People Formerly Known as Celebrities such as Tyson Beckford, Bruce Jenner, "Downtown" Julie Brown, Robin Leach, Melissa Rivers, Alana Stewart and "Stuttering" John Melendez will rough it on rice, beans and water in the Australian rain forest. They will compete in challenges to win extra food and will be eliminated one at a time until only the winner remains. But CBS may have the last laugh; it has fast-tracked a pick-a-mate show called "Cupid" that is a total knockoff of ABC's hit "The Bachelor," with plans to air it this summer.
The elegant Lyne did not seem to enjoy announcing the next wave of reality programming. "There's a reason you left these for me to announce," she said to Braun, joking that he likes to refer to "Are You Hot" as "Susan Lyne Presents Are You Hot."
(Too bad she never gave Braun his due credit on "Lloyd Braun Presents Push, Nevada" and "Lloyd Braun Presents The Runner.")
"Are You Hot" is produced by Mike "Cousin to Heidi" Fleiss, creator of "The Bachelor." It's "a contest where intelligence and achievement have absolutely no bearing," Lyne joked.
"Extreme Makeover," in which contestants vie to have Disney pay for their liposuction, face-lifts, laser eye surgery and tummy tucks, is "another little service we're providing here," Lyne said, adding that the number of people trying to get on the next edition "is staggering."
In addition to "I'm a Celebrity," "Are You Hot" and the next "Extreme Makeover," ABC will debut over the next four months another edition of "The Bachelor" (the third of the TV season) and the new series "All-American Girl." Lyne described the last as "a 13-week arc where we will be looking for the most impressive all-around female in the country."
"Present company excluded," Braun added chivalrously.
The "girls" will be judged on the basis of beauty, intelligence, personality, athletic ability and talent in such accomplishments as singing and dancing, Lyne said.
She said she had no problem with "All-American Girl" because the women are not treated "as lesser creatures."
No, they're treated like the dogs at Westminster, which is totally okay because, as you know, dog spelled backward is God.