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The latest news from the TV beat

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The Real Deals
Judging from its development slate, UPN may want to change its name to the Unscripted Programming Network. After doing bang-up business in October with the shockumentary specials World’s Nastiest Neighbors and Cheating Spouses Caught on Tape (both originally developed at Fox), the netlet is stockpiling reality series for 2001. First, World Wrestling Federation chief Vince McMahon is cocreating and executive-producing a reality game show entitled Manhunt. The series, which has received a six-episode order and is being readied for a March 2001 debut, features a group of contestants who are dropped into a remote locale and given a 24-hour head start before being tracked by a quartet of professional bounty hunters; those who evade capture win cash and prizes. (UPN president-CEO Dean Valentine likens Manhunt to ”grown-up Lazer Tag.”) It has also ordered a Cheating Spouses sequel, and a show called America’s Filthiest Restaurants (ewww!). And just when you thought it couldn’t get any sleazier, UPN picked up the singles-shackled-together freak-fest Chains of Love (which NBC dumped) for next year. But don’t chide Valentine for grabbing the shock-TV mantle once worn with pride by Fox: ”We’re happy to give our audience what they enjoy. Self-righteous nobility is extraordinarily unappealing. I will have none of it.”

Show Goes On
While NBC’s The Michael Richards Show has stumbled badly in the ratings since its Oct. 24 debut, it appears that the Peacock is going to stick with the freshman detective comedy at least through the full season. As of Nov. 28, Michael Richards was languishing behind its direct Tuesday-night competitors Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (ABC) and JAG (CBS), wobbling in 65th place for the season in total viewers. Given those unfunny numbers, it’s understandable why the network has been waffling about whether it’ll order the back nine episodes. But insiders confirm that NBC will allow the former Kramer to keep sleuthing through spring 2001. Notes an advertising industry analyst: ”NBC’s put millions and millions into making this show fly. They’re in too deep to just cast it adrift without giving it every shot.”

And So On…
The price of being a blabbermouth just got higher. Stone Stanley Entertainment, producer of the ABC reality series The Mole (set to debut in January) forced all involved in the show — from crew to contestants — to sign a confidentiality agreement prior to production. Those who divulge any secrets about the series — in which a team tries to complete complex tasks while one of its own works to sabotage the group’s efforts — must pay a $10 million penalty for said transgression. That’s more than double the $4 million fine the folks at Survivor were subject to. So how did Stone Stanley settle on the $10 million fee? Says Mole spokesman Matthew Marcus: ”I’m afraid that information is confidential.”

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