- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 29, 2005

Reality of summer

TV used to fill the summer with a stockpile of reruns across the dial. There are still repeats, but a virtual smorgasbord of new reality shows is being served up as well.

The coming months will see rocker Tommy Lee head off to college, former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield attempt ballroom dancing and the surviving members of INXS search for a new lead singer, Associated Press reports.

Why?

Because reality shows are cheap to produce and sometimes catch cultural lightning in a bottle — so it’s easy to see the appeal for cost-conscious networks.

The reality glut begins with tonight’s premiere of “Hell’s Kitchen” (9 p.m. on Fox), as tightly wound British chef Gordon Ramsay chooses one contestant (among a dozen hopefuls) to cook at his new Los Angeles eatery.

Wednesday offers a twofer. The WB’s “Beauty & the Geek” (produced by Ashton Kutcher and airing at 8 p.m.), takes some socially challenged smart guys and matches them up with dimwitted lookers. The couple that works best together in various contests could share $250,000 — and who knows what else?

Meanwhile, ABC’s “Dancing with Stars” (also on Wednesday ) features Mr. Holyfield and other celebrities teaming up with professional dancers. The fun begins at 9 p.m.

Come Thursday we get “Hit Me Baby,” a show that resurrects has-been singers itching for a second chance. Those beckoning for a return engagement include The Knack, Vanilla Ice, Cameo, Tiffany, Wang Chung, Loverboy and Arrested Development. The acts are competing for charity, presumably not their own, in the NBC series which airs at 9 p.m.

Later this summer we’ll be treated to “Rock Star: INXS”; slated to debut July 11 on CBS. Mark Burnett, the man behind “The Apprentice” and “Survivor,” brings us a battle between amateur singers competing for a job fronting the Australian rock band, whose former singer Michael Hutchence died in 1997. The winner will go on tour and record an album with the band.

Speaking of rockers, NBC will roll out “Tommy Lee Goes to College” (premiering in early August), which will follow the Motley Crue drummer as he enrolls in the University of Nebraska, tries out for the school’s marching band and crams for exams.

And if that’s not enough, existing reality series such as “Renovate My Family” (Fox), “Big Brother” (CBS), “Average Joe” (NBC) and “Wife Swap” (ABC) are returning with new episodes.

Female fall out

The women are falling, the women are falling … through the pilot season cracks, that is.

Several high-profile actresses have been let go from shows freshly picked up by UPN, Fox, NBC and WB within days after the networks released their fall lineups to advertisers, Reuters news agency reports.

The news shouldn’t have been a shock for Shannen Doherty, who was set to star in the new UPN comedy “Love, Inc.” The tabloid-friendly actress left “Charmed” after three seasons and was fired from “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

At Fox, Rachael Leigh Cook is departing the new drama series “Head Cases.” The show stars Chris O’Donnell as a successful lawyer who weathers a nervous breakdown and teams up with an attorney with an anger problem (Adam Goldberg).

Two actresses, Sarah Clarke of “24” fame and Leonor Varela, are said to be leaving “E-Ring,” NBC’s new high-profile drama that’s set at the Pentagon. In the pilot, which stars Benjamin Bratt and Dennis Hopper, Miss Clarke played the wife of Mr. Bratt’s character, while Miss Varela played a lieutenant colonel. Both roles are now being reconceived, sources told Reuters.

At WB, Laura San Giacomo of “Just Shoot Me” fame is no longer part of the cast of “Related,” a drama that revolves around four adult sisters in New York. And at UPN, Sara Foster, who co-starred in the pilot for “South Beach,” will not continue on the midseason drama.

Similarly, the spot for the female lead on Fox’s upcoming comedy series, “The Loop,” is now vacant. The role in the pilot was played by Becki Newton.

But the casting cuts aren’t reserved for women in new shows. Sasha Alexander is leaving the CBS crime drama “NCIS,” while Monica Potter and Rhona Mitra are departing ABC’s “Boston Legal.”

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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