NEW YORK – Let's get ready to rumble!
The big broadcast networks are brewing up a battle of the behemoths - pitting NBC's latest wunderkind, Weakest Link, head-to-head against ABC's aging megahit, Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
Flush with boffo ratings after just one week, NBC brass have suggested they might schedule Host from Hell Anne Robinson's Brit-hit, Link, directly against Millionaire - a ratings dominator for almost two years.
"If NBC feels they can take some steam out of Millionaire with a hotter, newer show and bring on a quicker death for Millionaire, then they'll do it," said TV industry expert Tom DeCabia.
"This is how competitive they truly are with each other," he said.
"Unfortunately, it's got nothing to do with the viewer," he added. "It's why you don't lob softballs to a home-run hitter. A pitcher goes out there to strike him out - even if the fans are there to see a home run."
The move will likely rankle viewers, who will be forced to choose - or set their VCRs.
"Why would NBC care that you're upset that you can't watch Millionaire as long as you're watching Weakest Link," said Syracuse University Prof. Robert Thompson, who also heads the school's Center for the Study of Popular Television.
"Nobody is ever programming a network for the convenience of the viewer . . . It's more about a chance to send a Scud missile at Millionaire."
And why not use Weakest Link to attack Millionaire, the experts say. After all, the last time the two British versions of the show went head-to-head in England, Millionaire lost.
After only one week, NBC appears to have finally landed a potent weapon capable of being deployed against Millionaire, and possibly even against CBS' Survivor.
"Obviously, the impressive performance in [three] different time periods leaves open our options as to where to play it," NBC entertainment chief Jeff Zucker said.
"It's totally about business," said TV industry analyst Marc Berman. "It's a business of bringing in the largest audience, which in turn brings in the most advertising revenue."
For almost two years NBC officials have been taunted for being the last major network to join the reality-TV party.
In August 1999, ABC broke the ice with Millionaire, then CBS stole ABC's thunder with Survivor last summer and Fox has steadily been unleashing a barrage of reality shows for years.
But aside from a failed bid to re-launch the classic quiz show Twenty One last year, until last week NBC had yet to score a reality hit.