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Cable’s hidden gems offer rerun relief

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Network reruns running you down? We feel your pain. So what better time to explore cable's nether world of hidden treasures, those underappreciated morsels you usually channel-surf past on your mad dash to catch "Friends," "ER" and "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" These easy-to-miss specialty delights run the gamut, from bizarre to bold, smart to silly, sexy to salacious.

So go forth with this list of off-the-beaten-path shows. View it as a starter kit to a bolder, more adventurous existence in front of the tube.

1. He's been gored, clawed, chomped, bitten, savaged, jumped on, whacked and groped by a variety of creatures, big and small, yet Australian Steve Irwin keeps coming back for more on the wildlife series "Crocodile Hunter" (Animal Planet). You should, too. Every episode of this immensely entertaining and often nail-biting series features Irwin in seemingly imminent danger of being eaten alive by everything from lions to tigers to bears — not to mention pythons and those ever-elusive crocodiles.

2. Admit it. You've strolled into a room in your neighbors' home and uttered, "What a piece of . . . ." "Changing Rooms" (BBC America) allows you to "act" on such thoughts. In this unique show, you get to strip, rip and paint the neighbor's room that most annoys you. The catch: The neighbors get to redecorate a room in your house. With only two days and a set budget, neighbors go at it with a team of interior designers and carpenters. The only condition is that the participants aren't allowed back into their own homes until the work is done. Will neighbors like the finished product and remain friends? Or will they hate the results and strangle one another? "Changing Rooms" is hosted by Carol Smillie, a former fashion model who broke into TV as an assistant in the British version of "Wheel of Fortune." Have there ever been any fisticuffs? "Not that," Smillie says, "but there have been neighbors never speaking to one another again. But usually, we all do a pretty good job. And it's free. So how can you complain?"

3. It's early morning and you're standing in a junkyard, surrounded by acres of scrap and about as many tools. Here's the challenge behind "Junkyard Wars" (TLC): Two teams, all dressed like extras from a "Mad Max" sequel, have 10 hours to create the biggest, fastest, strongest machine with parts they scrounge out of that junkyard. For example, a team of psychologists called "The Brainy Bunch" takes on a team of washing-machine repairmen in a competition to build a better flying machine. The Brainy Bunch gets ambitious and builds a full-size glider using old airplane wings. Viewers are entertained by the participants and even learn a thing or two about airplane design. (You'll learn why anyone would put a "canard," or tail, on the front of a plane instead of in the back. Surely this question keeps you up nights.)

4. Yeah, "Wedding Story" (TLC) is as sappy as it sounds. Not only are real-life weddings caught on tape, but cameras follow the bride and groom through dress and tux fittings to rehearsal dinners to in-laws jockeying for power. Through all of this, the two lovebirds talk about what they're getting into and how much they mean to one another. The best "Wedding Story" episodes are those of interfaith marriages (lots of compromises, lots of friction) or when the bride and groom are so different you wonder just how soon we'll catch them on "Divorce Court."

5. Brian Lamb has been called the Charlie Rose of books, but the better-known Rose doesn't come close to Lamb in the astute interrogator category. Lamb chairs the surprisingly spirited "Booknotes" (C-SPAN) with the authority of a grade-school teacher taking no mess. This isn't Stephen King or some other pop-culture writer cruising through an interview with "Today's" Matt Lauer. Lamb sits face-to-face with authors to pick apart their literature and their brains, usually in a just-the-facts-ma'am style that's so entertaining and illuminating you'd think he wrote the book.

6. As a TV personality, Tavis Smiley is as stiff as a board. He once interviewed the comedian George Wallace, one of the quickest-thinking comics alive today, and Smiley was so straightforward and, well, "serious," that Wallace nearly got up and left. But as anchor of the hour-long chat fest "BET Tonight" (Black Entertainment Television), Smiley manages to get down to the point at hand with few biases and a lot of courage.

7. What makes "3's a Crowd" (The Game Show Network) so addictive is its potential for complete and utter disaster. Think of "The Newlywed Game" with an ex-girlfriend tagging along. Couples invite former loves to the party to see who knows the guy or girl best. This would get totally out of hand if it weren't for host Alan Thicke, a most effective mediator.

8. "The Simpsons" aside, the networks have had their troubles with animated projects, giving us "God, the Devil and Bob" and other duds. MTV has been airing "Daria" for a few seasons now, and though no one seems to have noticed, it's turning into one of the best programs on the air. (Yes, you read that right.)

Daria is a cynical young woman with oversize eyeglasses and a strong sense of irony as her dominant personality trait.