Starting this week, the first wave of new reality shows hit the tube, all vying for ”Survivor” sized ratings. Along with the 16 fresh faced hopefuls on ”Survivor: The Australian Outback,” ordinary folks will be trying their hands at sleuthing, singing, and swinging (in a tropical paradise, no less). But there’s more behind this trend than the desire for boffo ratings: Networks need to develop renewable franchises — like MTV’s ”The Real World” — to keep viewers tuning in this summer in case the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild go on strike, as many industry watchers expect. (Fox’s ”Cops” and ”America’s Most Wanted” emerged from the last writer’s strike, in 1988, and are still around 13 years later.)
While it’s still too early to know which of these series will succeed, EW.com offers you a first look at the upcoming reality lineup:
”The Mole” (ABC, Jan. 9)
Ten contestants travel to a secret location (it’s Paris for the premiere episode — and somewhere new the next week) where they try to complete various tasks and challenges to win a million bucks. The catch: One player is out to sabotage the game, and the rest of the gang has to guess who it is before being eliminated from the show. It’s like a paranoid version of MTV’s ”Road Rules.” But will viewers dig watching people sweating over quizzes about each other? It’s hard to say. But then again, 20 million Americans tuned in to watch Gervase and Stacey wolf down a meal of insect larvae.
”Temptation Island” (Fox, Jan. 10)
It’s ”Baywatch” meets ”Fantasy Island,” in which four couples in rocky relationships are sent to an island filled with 26 swinging singles. Where do I sign up, you ask? Hang on — the couples are separated and sent to different islands where they’ll be tempted by fun loving, scantily clad members of the opposite sex. After two weeks of lusty adultery or strained monogamy, the contestants must decide between their new love interests and the old ball and chain. Protests by religious groups — and Fox affiliate boycotts — have already begun.