Few 'Survivors' as reality bites

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Just like in the show "Survivor," the entire landscape of TV reality shows is like a tropical beach-a lot of smooth sand but also some hard rocks to negotiate.

Three of this season's reality programs haven't lived up to their potential so far. "The Amazing Race" on CBS, "The Mole 2: The Next Betrayal" on ABC and "Lost" on NBC have all seen weak ratings that resulted in some postponements or curtailing of these shows.

Now, ABC's next big reality show-"The Runner," positioned as a major marketing platform for advertisers-has run into trouble even before its scheduled launch in January. The network has put the show on hiatus. PepsiCo and Cingular Wireless were two advertisers with commitments to participate in the show.

The show is to have a "runner" who tries to travel across country to grab a $1 million prize. The runner has to accomplish certain tasks in public spaces, such as malls and fast-food restaurants. Anyone in the U.S. can "capture" a runner-and get prizes.

Since the spring announcement of the show, TV industry executives say the show has had legal and security concerns, especially tied to monitoring a runner in public spaces. In light of the Sept. 11 attacks, this effort now becomes more complicated.

"`The Runner' is in the process of being evaluated and looked at right now," said Andrea Wong, VP-alternative series/specials for Walt Disney Co.'s ABC.

Before the start of the season, there were predictions of the demise of reality TV because of a glut of programs on the air-as well as the thought real-life terrorist attacks would lure viewers away from faux reality entertainment shows.

Some shows have indeed taken it on the chin.

Viacom-owned CBS's "Amazing Race" posted a poor Nielsen Media Research 5.7 rating and 9 share for households and 3.7 rating/9 share for adults 18-49-last in both categories in its time period among the top four networks. A rating is a percentage point of all households with TVs; a share is a percentage point of households watching TV.

General Electric Co.-owned NBC's "Lost" posted low Nielsen 5.0 share/8 rating household numbers; NBC ended the series after three airings vs. the six it originally planned. ABC's "The Mole," which debuted in the spring with 15 household shares, has dropped to 7 shares with its sequel series. ABC pulled the show and will restart the series again in January.

ABC executives blame the poor performance of "The Mole" on the lack of promotion after the terrorist attacks prompted networks to suspend regular programming, commercials and promos.

Still reality isn't going away. Positive news comes from early ratings from industry leader, "Survivor," with CBS's third in a series, "Survivor: Africa," as well as from lesser shows such as "Love Cruise" on News Corp.'s Fox.

During its Oct. 11 debut, "Survivor: Africa" posted a household 13.2 rating/19 share; the show's second episode slipped to 11.4 rating/18 share.

Though the show is under its 17.4 rating/27 share average of year ago, analysts think the show is performing well considering the circumstances.

"Survivor: Africa" carries the highest commercial price for a regular series on TV with an estimated average $445,000 for a 30-second spot, according to Advertising Age (AA, Sept. 24).

Steve Sternberg, senior VP-director of audience analysis for Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna Global USA, New York, said "Survivor: Africa" did well in its premiere though it was pushed back 45 minutes by President Bush's primetime press conference.

Another test for reality show genre comes when Fox starts "Temptation Island 2," a follow-up to last season's second-highest rated reality show and Fox's highest-rated series last season. The show debuts Nov. 7.

Contributing: David Goetzl

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