October 01, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

Is the reality TV trend so close to over that it’s scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas, or are the three new series greenlit in just the last two days signs that the trend is still picking up steam? Couch potatoes can decide for themselves next year when Fox unveils ”Married by America” (in which viewers will fix up potential couples) and ”Second Chance” (an ”American Idol” for singers who are already ”Behind the Music” fodder), while the WB offers ”The Celebrity Look-Alike Dating Show.”

Both Fox shows are the brainchildren of Mike Darnell, the creator of Fox’s infamous special ”Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?” a couple years ago. In ”Married by America,” he’d be matchmaking for ordinary folk ? or rather, viewers would. The audience would narrow a pool of singletons down to four men and four women, match them up, then vote on which ones should get engaged after they’ve had a chance to date for a few weeks. While contestants would be obligated to become engaged, they would still have the choice to back out of an impending marriage, or else tie the knot on camera during the series finale. This show is ”based on something that is practiced culturally in much of world” — the arranged marriage,” Darnell told Reuters on Thursday. ”So it’s really just taking that cultural practice and seeing if there’s a way to make it into a television show and Americanizing. The divorce rate is over 50 percent in this country, so maybe this is something that can work for some people better than looking on your own.”

Darnell said he got the idea for ”Second Chance” during the taping of the ”American Idol” reunion concert in Las Vegas. ”I began thinking about the celebrity version of shows like ‘Fear Factor,’ and I realized that the appeal of these shows for viewers is watching celebs trying to reinvent themselves,” Darnell told Variety. ”I thought, why couldn’t you take people who’ve had their shots at fame and give them a chance to come back again?” The show would work along the lines of ”Idol,” with former icons (Darnell has suggested Tiffany or Deborah Gibson, though no talent has been lined up yet, according to the Hollywood Reporter) competing in sing-offs and being voted off by viewers. In fact, the show will be overseen by ”Idol” producers Simon Fuller and Nigel Lythgoe, who may try the idea out first in the U.K., as they did with ”Idol.” (Rick Astley and Samantha Fox, call your agents.)

The WB’s new show, produced by Ben Silverman (who’s behind USA’s upcoming countryfied ”Idol”-type contest, ”Nashville Star”), won’t feature the famous or the formerly famous, just people who think they resemble famous folks. According to the Reporter, ”The Celebrity Look-Alike Dating Show” will whittle down the supposed ringers from pools of finalists, give them makeovers to look like the real thing (à la MTV’s ”Becoming”), teach them to speak and act like the real thing, then pair them off with appropriate faux celebs. The resulting pairs should resemble real celebrity couples (think J. Lo and Ben Affleck) or at least real celebrity pairs who are friends or colleagues (think Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt, who costarred in ”The Mexican”). Finally, the ersatz stars will go out on the town together and try to fool onlookers. (Having a camera crew in tow will probably help.) ”In a perfect world, we could get our couple into an awards show posing as the persons,” WB exec Keith Cox told the Reporter.

News of these three series comes within days of announcements of a couple of other new reality contests: ABC’s ”The Will” (viewers pick a winner from a group of heirs battling over an estate) and UPN’s ”Supermodel” (Tyra Banks hosts a competition whose contestants would all love to steal her day job). With so many people competing on these shows, who’ll be left at home to watch and vote?

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