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In the Know * A Look at The Week Ahead

'Fear Factor' Scares Up a Weekly Spot

January 07, 2002

Two high-profile, unscripted series pass in the night this week, as NBC's summer hit "Fear Factor" returns as a regular weekly program tonight, and the third edition of CBS' "Survivor" concludes Thursday.

This sort-of baton pass takes place after a fall that saw most so-called "reality" shows, with "Survivor" an exception, die on the ratings vine, though a celebrity "Fear Factor" bucked that trend and generated strong ratings in November. The question is how well the NBC show--reviled by critics when it premiered in June--holds up against original fare, as opposed to summer reruns.

"Fear Factor" irked critics with its stomach-churning stunts, but the program also drew a strong tune-in among the young adults most sought by advertisers. Balanced against those gains is the fact that some contend the program sullies NBC's image as the home of high-quality series such as "The West Wing" and "Frasier"--a charge NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker has flatly dismissed.

Anticipating a drubbing from reporters, Zucker wore a bulletproof vest to NBC's semiannual session with TV critics in July. Appropriately, NBC faces those same reporters and critics again Wednesday, by which time the ratings will indicate whether "Fear" is destined to be a flash in the pan or a true factor in prime time. (For a review of tonight's premiere, see Tuned In, F16.)

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Compiled by Times staff writers

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