And while the networks are introducing a new crop of minor marquee names in their midseason replacement programming, no cast has more ratings pressure than the regular-Joe stars of the much-anticipated second round of Survivor — this time set in the Australian outback — which debuts Jan. 28 in the CBS Thursday 8 p.m. ET timeslot against NBC favorite Friends.
And Survivor isn't the only reality contender this season. Fox will debut Temptation Island Wednesday, Jan. 10 at 9 p.m., stranding four unmarried couples with 26 infidelity-friendly singles. The show has already been publicly derided by at least two media watchdog groups and a rabbi who called the show "an assault on marriage," which should guarantee at least some interest from viewers.
Fox also plans to air Love Cruise, a singles free-for-all at sea, and the military competition Boot Camp, though no dates have been set for these. And that's not all: Fridays at 8:30, the WB will air the Australian import Popstars, which traces the audition process of a Spice Girls-esque pop group.
And ABC gets into the act with a much-advertised The Mole on Tuesdays at 8, planting a spy amid 10 contestants who try to ferret out the insurgent. Meanwhile, UPN is holding Chains of Love for some future date, a Dutch import with four shackled suitors competing for the affections of one female "link."
Among the film stars heading to TV is Donal Logue, an indie hit in last year's The Tao of Steve. In Fox's Grounded for Life (Wednesdays at 8:30, starting in January), Logue sheds the single-guy role for a working-class family sitcom.
CBS is resurrecting a number of familiar faces too: Some Kind of Wonderful star Mary Stuart Masterson joins Cheers' Rhea Pearlman and Chicago Hope star Hector Elizondo in community center drama Kate Brasher; and Big Apple delivers David Strathairn of L.A. Confidential, Michael Madsen of Reservoir Dogs and Mark's brother Donnie Wahlberg, better known as a former New Kids on the Block member.
Over on ABC, The Ninth Gate's Frank Langella plays a mysterious news service founder in The Beast. NBC gathers some departed sitcom alums (including NewsRadio's Vicki Lewis and It's Like, You Know's A.J. Langer) in Three Sisters, which airs on Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m.
Having built entire evenings around the World Wrestling Federation (Smackdown! Thursdays) and sci-fi (7 Days, Star Trek: Voyager, Freedom, Level 9), UPN has liberated itself from the underperforming Freedom and installed a claymation block in the Friday 8 p.m. timeslot.
Gary & Mike, a road trip claymation comedy about two twentysomething slackers, gets a preview Thursday and then settles into a Friday slot before reruns of MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch, the bang-up, splat-down WWF copy featuring fantasy face-offs between famous people.
And, after big-screen appearances in The Whole Nine Yards and the critically lashed Whipped by star Amanda Peet, romantic dramedy Jack and Jill returns to the WB Wednesdays at 9 p.m. as part of the network's plan to split the season between that and Felicity.
Last fall's weird-Web adventure series Freakylinks will also return from near death, airing Fridays at 9 p.m.
Tune In Later for ...
Other series in the works but not yet scheduled include in-your-face comedian Robert Schimmel's self-titled sitcom on Fox; NBC's Go Fish, a high school comedy starring kiddie actor Macaulay Culkin's little bro Kieran; Kristin, with Tony-winner Kristin Chenoweth as a small-town girl who falls for a tycoon, also on NBC; and CBS sitcom Me and Frankie Z., featuring the return of Silver Spoons star Jason Bateman.
UPN has other offerings looming in the ether: All Souls, an Aaron Spelling drama set at a haunted hospital; and sci-fi detective series Special Unit 2.
Another ensemble drama waiting in the wings at NBC, First Years (formerly known as This Life), follows a group of law grads working and living together.
Fox plans to introduce new sci-fi programs, saying it will air X-Files spinoff Lone Gunmen and a live action version of comic superhero The Tick later this season.
So if Survivor doesn't float your boat this time around, just watch your TV schedules: Something's sure to get voted off the island.
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