NEW YORK – Richard Hatch, Susan Hawk, Sean Kenniff and other stars of the first CBS Survivor series will stage a television reunion next month -- on NBC.
And they'll have to be careful about what they say.
In an unusual step, NBC's new game show, Weakest Link, will have a special edition next month with the former stars of CBS' signature show.
Odder still, NBC is prohibited by a clause in the former tribal teammates' contracts from even mentioning the show, Survivor.
NBC is airing the special Weakest Link on May 10 at 8:30 p.m. EDT, one week after the second edition of Survivor has its final episode.
"I don't think we can bury our heads in the sand and not acknowledge that these people were a national phenomenon," said Jeff Zucker, NBC entertainment president. "It's a tip of the hat to them and a fun way to play the game."
Weakest Link, which made a strong debut on NBC Monday night, combines elements of Survivor and ABC's game, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Poorly performing contestants are voted off the show by their teammates, dismissed by acerbic host Anne Robinson's catch phrase: "You are the weakest link. Goodbye."
CBS is enjoying the salute. Spokesman Chris Ender said he didn't consider it unusual, since stars from other network shows appear on David Letterman's Late Show all the time.
"It's not a big deal," Ender said. "We'll take the additional promotion for Survivor."
In the recent past, networks have been touchy about giving prime-time platforms to rivals. Both NBC and CBS have put the word out that their prime-time stars should not appear on celebrity editions of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, angering that show's producer. Martin Sheen, star of NBC's The West Wing, had to back out of a commitment to appear on the game show.
Zucker, who was executive producer of the Today show until taking his current job in December, was a Survivor fan who raised some eyebrows at NBC for devoting a lot of Today segments to the CBS show last summer.
He said no one resisted his Weakest Link idea.
"To ignore it is to not acknowledge what most Americans are aware of," he said. "So, in the effort to survive, we can have some fun with these celebrities. If you know what I mean."
Hatch auditioned to be host of Weakest Link, before NBC decided to go with Robinson, who is host of the original British version of the series. Hatch is still under consideration to be host if NBC decides to eventually syndicate the show for daytime TV.
Ramona Gray, Gretchen Cordy and Joel Klug -- other alumni of the first Survivor -- will also participate in the show. NBC couldn't get stars of the current outback Survivor, because CBS controls where they may appear.
Weakest Link drew 14.7 million viewers Monday, winning its time slot. It was NBC's best showing in that normally weak slot since 1996, with 81 percent more viewers than NBC has been averaging this year, according to Nielsen Media Research. NBC had been promoting the show, and Robinson's catch phrase, relentlessly in recent weeks.
NBC was "cautiously optimistic" about the show's long-term prospects, Zucker said.