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On The Air: The latest news from the TV beat

‘Big Brother’ isn’t as big a flop as critics would have you think, and ‘Sex and the City”s Chris Noth will star in his own HBO series

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‘Big’ Surprise Call it the Two Guys and a Girl effect: Despite constant attacks from TV critics — and a cast of walkout-minded housemates — Big Brother is actually a success story for CBS. The Eye’s ratings are up a whopping 138 percent among adults 18-34, 90 percent among adults 18-49, and 24 percent in total viewers in BB‘s six time slots versus this time last year. ”It still is great summer programming — better than running second and third repeats of existing series,” says media analyst Tim Spengler. ”It’s not Survivor, but they’ll take it any day of the week.” Of course, don’t tell that to the doubting Thomases who frequent Bigbrotherblows.com. They think CBS has a sinking ship on its hands, citing the network’s recent attempted payoff of $50,000 to any housemate who’d skedaddle so it could sub in a 22-year-old hottie from Florida (no one took the bait). ”The general consensus is that they are in bad shape and are desperate to get someone new,” says website creator Paul Sims. But such fiduciary stunts are typical for the BB franchise, says CBS spokeswoman Diane Ekeblad: In Holland, BB offered the housemates $5,000 each to jump ship (two did). And in even better news: only four more months until Survivor: The Australian Outback.

Double Team The idea of networks promoting each other’s product seems as likely as Rudy and Richard becoming bunkmates. But that’s exactly what will happen come February, when both NBC and UPN launch Vince McMahon’s new XFL Football League: The Peacock will plug the next game on UPN during its Saturday telecast, and UPN will return the favor by reminding viewers about the upcoming NBC broadcast during the game on Sunday. A similar type of time-share arrangement has already worked for UPN and USA, which bent the rules by hyping each other’s wrestling programs, WWF Smackdown! and Raw Is War, respectively. Says UPN’s COO, Adam Ware, ”We think [cross promotion] is win-win and believe the NBC affiliates will have the same experience.” And the back-scratching won’t stop there: XFL fans may even see the occasional WWF wrestler show up on the sidelines. ”[This is] a very sports-inclined group of guys,” says Jim Byrne, the WWF’s senior VP of marketing. ”We’ll likely see a lot of familiar faces sprinkled in the audience.” What’s next, Sean Hayes seen sharing a soft pretzel with The Rock during halftime?

And so on … Carrie may have dropped Mr. Big, but HBO certainly hasn’t: Insiders say the premium network just closed a deal with Sex and the City‘s Chris Noth to star in his own series (he’ll stay on deck for Sex in case exec producers want him back). In the meantime, look for Noth — appearing on Broadway in The Best Man — to star in the upcoming NBC miniseries The Judge; he’ll play an aggressive lawyer who defends a jurist charged with a bogus crime.

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