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March 21, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

NBC’S ‘SURVIVOR’ GUILT As if the Friends don’t have enough competition from ”Survivor,” now CBS’ Down Under hit is becoming a veritable staple on NBC’s ”Today” show. Like the rest of the country, Matt Lauer and Katie Couric seem fixated on the Kucha – Ogakor – Barramundi battles: So far they’ve done a ”before they were Survivors” segment, and they’ve reported on the ”Survivor” vs. ”Friends” matchup, as well as the excesses of reality shows (with contestant Michael Skupin’s stint as a pig killer serving as an example).

”I truly believe they are covering it like they would a national news story. We respect that,” says CBS spokesman Chris Ender (he couldn’t, however, oblige ”Today”’s requests for castaways Maralyn ”Mad Dog” Hershey and Skupin because of ”scheduling conflicts”). Reasons ”Today” acting executive producer Michael Bass: ”[NBC entertainment president] Jeff Zucker and I talk all the time. He probably would prefer we would never mention ‘Survivor,’ but he did it when he was executive producer here. He knows it is an important thing for ‘Today’ to periodically pay attention to. I think we cover everything people are interested in. What if ‘Survivor’ were on NBC? We’d certainly do a lot more.” You think?

‘DAYS’ OF THUNDER One of the stars of UPN’s ”7 Days” may have found the perfect way to boost the sci-fi show’s ratings: Add a little controversy. Insiders on the drama say Justina Vail, who plays Olga on the Paramount produced series, walked off the Vancouver set three weeks ago over what some have speculated was a strained relationship between Vail and star Jonathan LaPaglia (a Paramount spokesperson declined to comment). At press time, negotiations were under way to work out Vail’s possible return, but producers aren’t letting a little absenteeism get in the way of making UPN’s second most watched drama (behind ”Star Trek: Voyager”). ”They are filming around her and making it work,” says one source. Vail or no, ”7 Days,” which finishes its third season April 4, is expected to return next fall.

AND SO ON… We’ll have to wait for the next TV show from megaselling author Michael Crichton. The ”ER” creator was to develop a drama for Fox this season but he never delivered a script. No word on whether the project has flat-lined…. CBS is developing a TV movie on the Robert Philip Hanssen spy story. Lawrence Schiller (”Perfect Murder, Perfect Town”) and Norman Mailer are attached to exec produce…. And you thought the ”Temptation Island” couples wouldn’t stay together: Earlier this month, Fox’s bawdy beach bunch (minus Mandy) was seen in the audience while NBC’s ”Just Shoot Me” filmed its 100th episode. Quipped ”Shoot”’s David Spade of one buff islander: ”I asked Kaya if it was mandatory to wear T-shirts from Baby Gap. Can’t he wear one from regular Gap?” (Additional reporting by Dan Snierson)

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