No cure for summertime snooze as networks bulk up on reality fare

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Let's hope it doesn't rain this summer because the broadcast networks are offering up months of back-to-back reality shows. A few have potential, although most feel derivative.

CBS's most marketer-friendly show is "The Cut," which premieres June 9 at 8 p.m. The show, hosted by Tommy Hilfiger himself, is "Project Runway" meets "The Apprentice," in a quest for a "trendsetter of tomorrow" who will design a new Hilfiger collection. The four-part series pits 16 contestants, including a street artist from Brooklyn and a desperate housewife from St. Louis, against each other in a series of tasks to win the job. Tommy, of course, gets plenty of screen time. Peter Connolly, the fashion house's president-worldwide marketing, is an executive producer.

`ROCK STAR'

Also on CBS, Mark Burnett Productions' "Rock Star: INXS" aims to revive the `80s band, which went into decline after the death of lead singer Michael Hutchence, via an "American Idol" style series of contestant eliminations. The series mixes drama with musical performance with the winner getting a contract to go on tour with the band and help record its next album.

Over on NBC, producer Ben Silverman-whose credits include "The Restaurant" and "Blow Out"-offers up two shows, including returning series "The Biggest Loser." The second, "Meet Mr. Mom," has Dad running the household while Mom watches the madness on a secret camera from a luxury vacation. The show brings together Silverman's company Reveille and Full Circle Entertainment, Omnicom's branded-entertainment investment vehicle run by Robert Riesenberg. Brands involved are yet to be revealed.

In previous years, broadcast networks have put little effort into summer schedules, and it's easy to see why. Lisa Quan, VP-manager of broadcast research at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna Global, said summer viewing trends always see a shift to cable. For instance, July 2004 saw the total share for the six broadcast networks at 31% compared with 50% in ad-supported cable. By comparison the season-to-date share of the six broadcast networks compared with ad-supported cable was a more even 45% to 52%.

"We haven't seen much great scripted stuff in the summer," said Ms. Quan. "Reality is not necessarily a bad thing. The program has to be good to catch any kind of audience." Nor are repeats. "CBS kept to repeats of their strong programs in their regular time periods and they did pretty well, they didn't see a large loss summer to summer," she said.

Prize for the campiest summer offering is something of a face-off between NBC's "I Want to Be a Hilton," hosted by Kathy Hilton, Paris' mom (the prize is a debutante lifestyle) or ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," which aims to launch ballroom dancing on an unsuspecting public. The network is also milking the idea of pro-social programming in the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" vein, a touchy-feely theme advertisers hold close to their hearts. ABC's "Scholar" will feature a group of students who must demonstrate expertise in academics, leadership and creativity to win a position at a major U.S. university.

The WB will bring back some of last year's offerings, "Summerland," and "Blue Collar TV" among them, but new president of entertainment David Janollari is passing on "Pepsi Smash," the regular music series that's been on the air for the past two years. The show had been something of a case study in advertiser-funded programming, but hadn't performed well in the ratings.

Fox Network is yet to announce its summer season under new Entertainment President Peter Liguori. A pilot titled "Reunion" follows the lives of former college mates and involves flashbacks through previous decades. Among the more buzzworthy shows is "Hell's Kitchen," involving tough super chef Gordon Ramsey as he tutors a group of novices chefs on Fox, May 30. And let's not forget UPN's "Britney & Kevin: Chaotic," a documentary about the newlyweds, starting May 17.

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