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TELEVISION ROUNDUP

Is that a D sharp or a shiv?

'American Idol' takes a nasty turn as entrants are pitted against one another more and rudeness rules.

January 13, 2006|Maria Elena Fernandez; Lynn Smith

For four seasons, we've felt the love: Kelly and Justin, hugging and crying as she became the first "American Idol," Fantasia and Diana in a love lock as Fantasia was crowned the third champion; Bo and Carrie professing their affection.

Not this year. When the show's fifth season kicks off Tuesday, the kinder, gentler "Idol" hopefuls will be nowhere in sight. These contestants fight, curse, threaten and quit rudely when they don't like what the judges have to say.

"Everyone seems to have more attitude," said executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. "I don't know how to put this nicely, so you have to bleep me or something. I've never seen people willing to [dump] on other people as much as this crowd."

The level of tension is a bit surprising to Lythgoe, but for him, "American Idol" is about producing good television, so he'll take it, he said. In fact, Lythgoe admitted in a telephone news conference Thursday that it was his idea to toy with contestants about whether they're in the winning or losing group as they nervously wait for their results each week. So get off host Ryan Seacrest's back, America.

"I think it's exceptionally mean," Lythgoe said. "It's one of the meanest things we did, and I put my hand up. I'm to blame for it.... It would be very boring if we just say you're in, you're in."

The No. 1 show on television, "American Idol" outperformed itself last year both in total viewers and the 18- to 49-year-old demographic.

And if squabbling among the contestants isn't entertaining enough, the producers are going to expand their coverage of the fights among judges. In previous seasons, viewers have watched as an aggravated Simon Cowell abandoned the audition room out of frustration with colleagues Paula Abdul or Randy Jackson. This season, when a judge exits, the cameras go with him or her.

"Some very, very interesting things happen," Lythgoe promised.

-- Maria Elena Fernandez

When playing parts don't pay

Pilot season can be rough on an actor. Audition, audition, audition. Get the part, play the part. Part gets killed along with the show when the network dumps it. And back you go to the drawing board, or your nearby 90210 mansion.

For Tori Spelling, this got old. Come on, says the 32-year-old former "Beverly Hills, 90210" star, who has led a very 90210 life. Are viewers really supposed to buy her as a down-on-her-luck woman in a low-income bracket? It seems those were the only parts the daughter of mega producer Aaron Spelling had been getting ever since "90210" went off the air.

So Spelling took matters into her own manicured hands and created "so noTORIous," for NBC last year.

Alas, NBC passed -- even though in this comedy Spelling doesn't play a down-and-out babe. She plays herself. She has moved out of the mansion and into a condo next door to Farrah Fawcett, who appears in the pilot. The scripts are "loosely" based on her life, which essentially means that Spelling tries to borrow silver serving trays from her mom, Kiki, played by Loni Anderson, and she drives up to her daddy's mansion with the theme song from "Dynasty" playing in the background.

VH1 to the rescue! The basic cable network will premiere "so noTORIous," its first scripted comedy, on April 2. Produced by Chris Alberghini and Mike Chessler, whose credits include "Murphy Brown," "Reba" and "Whoopi," the show is meant to poke fun at Spelling's image as the nation's No. 1 Daddy's Girl.

"After years and years of trying to get past my family and my life

-- M.E.F.

Pumping up the Oxygen

Presenting two sassy new shows to the TV critics this week, Oxygen tried to pull away from the pack of other women's networks that remain focused on love, sincerity and psychic connections with the dead.

"Oxygen loves bold and unconventional women," Debby Beece, president of programming and marketing, told the critics as she introduced "Campus Ladies," a sweetly raunchy comedy about two fortysomething women going to college, and "The Janice Dickinson Project," an unscripted show about the fiftysomething supermodel starting up her own modeling agency.

Critics laughed nervously when Dickinson, asked about the chances of a poor, deprived girl chosen for the first group of models, said she'd be fine "after a few plastic surgery tips and some flea dip."

A collective intake of breath was heard when Dickinson told them, "I was the star of 'America's Next Top Model'....Tyra Banks used to say, 'I'm the producer' and I was like, 'Yeah, but you weren't in Vogue that much.' "

"Campus Ladies" stars Christen Sussin and Carrie Aizley described their characters as inappropriate but innocent. On spring break with other students, they enter a banana eating contest but miss the implied sexual humor.

"It's a little racy because you do see the 18-year-olds doing it," said executive producer Cheryl Hines. "But when you see these two, it's really about the comedy."

"Campus Ladies" debuted Sunday; Dickinson's show will air in the spring.

In separate sessions, Lifetime previewed an original movie, "For One Night," about "a teenager's effort to integrate her high school prom," airing Feb. 6, and a comedy series "Lovespring," about a matchmaking agency in Tarzana, airing next summer; Hallmark introduced original movies "Hidden Places," about a widowed mother and a mysterious stranger (Jan. 28), and "A Family of Strangers," about "an elderly woman and her shifty grandson who ... embrace life together" (May).

WE (Women's Entertainment) presented a new series, "John Edward Cross Country," in which the psychic medium hits the road to perform readings across the nation.

-- Lynn Smith

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