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It’s a ‘reality TV’ overload

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By the time this summer is over, yours truly will be "real" tired of network television.

Not that I have anything against original programming during June, July and August. I get as sick of reruns as anyone else. But, unfortunately, most of the original programming on the Big Four networks is in the "reality" genre. Which, for the most part, means umpteen rip-offs of "The Bachelor," "Joe Millionaire" and "American Idol."

Perhaps the most astonishing of these new shows came Sunday, when NBC ripped itself off with the flip side of "America's Most Talented Kid." Only those over the age of 50 need apply to "Second Chance: America's Most Talented Senior." ("Kid," of course, ripped off both "American Idol" and "Star Search.") What makes "Second Chance" so unusual is that NBC, which won't even talk about the ratings outside its target 18-to-49 demographic, is actually putting people older than that on the air.

Less surprising is tonight's premiere of "For Love or Money," a blatant rip-off of "Joe Millionaire" (which was, in turn, a blatant rip-off of "The Bachelor"). A "handsome and charming Dallas defense attorney" (Rob Campos) is pursued by 15 "beautiful girls" who he thinks are interested in him. But, as it turns out, they know that if he chooses them as his one-and-only, they'll win a million bucks. So, of course, they'll lie, cheat and backstab to win his heart — in order to win the money. Or she can take the guy and not the money.

Which will she choose?

NBC, it should be noted, also owns the Bravo cable network. And, in July, Bravo will air "Boy Meets Boy," a dating show in which a gay man chooses from among 15 suitors. Turns out, not all the suitors are gay, however. The chooser wins $25,000 and a trip to New Zealand with the guy he chooses, if that guy turns out to be gay; if the chosen guy is straight, then he gets the cash.

These are but two of a slew of such shows, which include CBS's "Cupid," Fox's "Anything for Love" and NBC's "Race to the Altar."

And you had to know that we were in for trouble when even Animal Planet decided to rip off "American Idol." "America's Most Talented Pet" just wrapped up its first season, but, in addition to the, ahem, "oldsters" (and who said 50 is old?) on "Second Chance," we've got Debbie Allen task-mastering star wannabes on NBC's "Fame"; Tyra Banks task-mastering supermodel wannabes on UPN's "America's Next Top Model"; and, beginning Tuesday (7 p.m., Ch. 13), "American Juniors" on Fox (a 6- to 16-year-old version of "American Idol" that rips off "Making the Band" and "Pop Stars" — the chosen kids will become a group).

And, later this summer, NBC is looking for Arnold Schwarzenegger wannabes on "The Next Action Star" and Jerry Seinfeld wannabes on "Last Comic Standing: The Search for the Funniest Person in America."

I think it's a plot by the Writers Guild of America. A lot of WGA members have lost work because of the networks' reliance on reality programming — which doesn't require writers — so perhaps they're trying to overload viewers with so much "reality" TV that we'll become nauseated at the mere mention of another rip-off.

Not that that would be a bad thing.

NEGOTIATING IN THE PRESS: Forgive me if I don't exactly believe that "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell won't be back when the show returns in January. Even though he insists that his decision to leave is "not about the money," it smells like a negotiating ploy.

Fox Entertainment chairman Sandy Grushow suggested as much in a telephone conference with TV critics, joking that "I would never accuse Simon of negotiating," and adding that "we have every expectation that he'll be back."

They'll give him what he wants. The prospect of "Idol" relying on Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson as its lead judges has to scare Fox executives to death.

'IDOL' CHATTER: Oh, sure. Simon might not be back, but the utterly talentless Ryan Seacrest will return as the host of the show.

Worse yet, Fox is planning a syndicated talk show hosted by Seacrest that will premiere in January. And the thought of having to listen to this guy talk for an hour a day five days a week scares me to death.

Given that Fox plans to air Seacrest's show on the stations it owns, and given that it owns KSTU-Ch. 13, we're assured that it will be seen here. Unless we get lucky and somebody comes to their senses and realizes what a terrible idea this is.

E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com