Lock Up These Chains … Will George W. Duck MTV? … Charlotte Ross Turns Down Playboy

Wednesday, Aug. 23

After numerous hesitations and missteps, NBC has finally gotten with the program and bought into the reality-TV phenomenon. But NBC may soon find out–as some of the network’s competitors have already learned–that while reality TV can deliver big ratings and fat bucks, it can also cause big, fat headaches.

Last week, NBC announced that it had signed a deal with Big Brother creator Endemol Entertainment to produce two shows, including an Americanized version of Chains of Love , a popular voyeur-TV series in Holland in which five contestants are chained together for five days in a bondage battle for cash prizes and … a date.

Say what? Chains of Love stands to be the strangest dating game in the history of American TV, and there have been some strange ones. Here’s how it works: One contestant, a man or woman, selects four other contestants from a pool of potential “dream dates.” Those four dream dates are then handcuffed to each other. Each day, one dud dream date gets dumped until there is only one left. In other words, the perfect mate!

Sound creepy? It sure did to the folks at the National Organization for Women in Washington, D.C. ” Chains of Love sounds every bit as offensive as Fox’s Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire ?” said NOW vice president Loretta Kane, referring to the notorious Fox game show that got pulled after only one episode earlier this year. “I think it’s particularly offensive to characterize the relationships between people in the context of chains.”

They weren’t exactly rolling in the aisles over at the D.C.-based National Council of Women’s Organizations, either. “I think any show that promotes the idea that women have to enter a perpetual Miss America contest to get a man is not a good idea,” said the council’s president, Martha Burk. “I don’t think it gives kids the right idea about how relationships are formed.”

Ms. Burk wasn’t swayed by the defense that on Chains of Love , both men and women will be equally represented. “It’s bad either way,” she said. “If it’s a woman and four men, that’s one message. If it’s four women and one man, that’s another. They’re both exploitative. Four women are going to have to fight over this guy and try to attract him, or one woman is going to have to make herself attractive to four guys.”

Both Ms. Burk and Ms. Kane at NOW emphasized they hadn’t seen the Dutch version of Chains of Love , but they didn’t sound too optimistic for the American version, which hasn’t started production yet. “It’s hard to condemn something without seeing it, but from the reports I have read, it sounds to me like they are relying on some old stereotypes–the old ball-and-chain stereotypes,” said Ms. Kane.

But NBC spokesperson Shirley Powell cautioned against passing judgment on Chains of Love . “I think, unfortunately, we have a show title that people react to–which is a good thing, because it will make people watch–but I think when people actually see the show, I can’t imagine it’s going to be problematic for them,” she said. Ms. Powell said she had seen an episode of the Dutch version, and while the contestants were, indeed, all chained together, she found it harmless stuff, with no S&M underpinnings or anything like that. “It was about how they [the chained contestants] get up the stairs, how they eat dinner, how they go to the grocery store–how do you live your everyday life,” she said.

Said Ms. Powell: “If NOW or any organization has any concerns, I would say to them that they should wait to see the show before they react, because the title is a lot more salacious than the actual program.”

Still, the early reaction to Chains of Love suggests that, in finally embracing reality TV, NBC is in for some of the same criticism and bad-P.R. surprises that have greeted previous reality fare, from Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire ? to Survivor to Big Brother .

“What viewers need to do is turn these sort of shows off and to voice their concern and discontent to the networks,” said NOW’s Loretta Kane. “Fox certainly heard the public outcry and responded appropriately, I would say. And if Chains of Love is what it appears to be, then I think that we need to have the same sort of public outcry.”

Well, at least NBC can take heart that there are some people out there not likely to be offended by Chains of Love .

“Sounds pretty boring, actually,” said a staff member at Pandora’s Box, the upscale Manhattan S&M dungeon, when told about the show. “I can’t imagine what they are going to do for an hour. Just talking?”

Yeah, just talking? Speaking of boring ideas, tonight on CBS, someone finally wins a million bucks just for staying on a desert island. Survivor . [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]

Thursday, Aug. 24

On Monday, Aug. 14, CBS Sports hosted a little press lunch featuring its NFL Today team, which includes Mike Ditka, Phil Simms, Greg Gumbel, Sam Wyche and Jerry Glanville. The idea was to promote the upcoming football season and CBS’s plans to spice up its dry-toast pre-game show by taking it outside–specifically, to an outdoor plaza at the corner of 59th Street and Fifth Avenue.

That’s all well and good, but on that Monday afternoon, the NFL Today talent were acting less like promoters and more like junior-high troublemakers who had been locked inside for after-school detention. Good-natured CBS Sports president Sean McManus tossed some pre-season bromides at the assembled hacks, but when he opened up the floor to his team, the jocks shifted silently in their seats, as if they’d been asked to come to the blackboard and sort out some long division. (“This is a subdued group,” Mr. McManus said later.)

After a long, awkward pause, Mr. Simms, the ex-Giant great, finally piped up. “Greg wants to talk,” he snickered in his signature Kentucky-fried drawl, passing the ball to Mr. Gumbel, his roly-poly booth mate. But Mr. Gumbel–who, like his brother, Bryant, usually is not at a loss for words–said nothing.

Finally, Mr. Ditka stepped up and broke the ice, reciting some canned homilies about All the Exciting Changes Afoot At CBS Sports. While he was talking, Mr. Gumbel and his buddies couldn’t stop snickering behind Iron Mike’s back.

“Hey, Simms,” Mr. Gumbel said out loud, examining his soggy grinder, “why they gotta put cheese on everything?” Then Mr. Simms–clearly campaigning for class-clown status–started in on Mr. Wyche, ridiculing the former Cincinnati and Tampa Bay coach’s road-gravel voice. “When you smoke three packs a day, it’s going to fuck up your lungs,” Mr. Simms chided.

“I just had surgery!” Mr. Wyche protested. But Mr. Simms would not let up on the famously mediocre coach. “He’s got his nuts in his throat!” he roared at Mr. Wyche.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ditka, who should be prosecuted for mortgaging the New Orleans Saints’ future last year by trading away his entire draft for moody running back Ricky Williams (an act that ultimately led to his firing), continued to ramble on with his predictions for the league. “[Mr. Ditka] doesn’t have the answer,” Mr. Simms whispered to Dan Dierdorf, the Monday Night Football expatriate, now with CBS. “He’s not in the booth. They have all the fucking answers up in the booth.” Mr. Dierdorf smiled uncomfortably, but said nothing.

The jocks also talked about taking their program outdoors to 59th and Fifth–a strange choice of locations for a football show since, judging from the neighborhood’s pedestrian stream, they’re more likely to be surrounded by perplexed German tourists than by raucous Giants fans. But Mr. Dierdorf had some ideas for getting attention. Motioning toward the occasionally ill-tempered Mr. Ditka, Mr. Dierdorf said, “If you drop one of those guys [fans], Mike, the ratings will skyrocket.”

Leave it to Jerry Glanville to add a dose of class to this crowd. Mr. Glanville, the overrated ex-coach of the Atlanta Falcons (what is it with CBS Sports and all these crappy ex-coaches?), is The NFL Today ‘s resident buffoon, and usually acts as if he just stepped out of Cooter’s car on the set of The Dukes of Hazzard . At Monday’s lunch, he wore his usual Johnny Cash gear: a black blazer, a black shirt, black jeans and a spit-polished Harley Davidson belt buckle.

It will be primarily Mr. Glanville’s job to deal with all the beasts on 59th and Fifth–he’ll be The NFL Today’ s main correspondent on the street. But it didn’t exactly sound like he’s been training for the job. “Nobody has said a word to me about it,” he said. “They’re just going to shove me out there the first day.”

But c’mon, Jerry! Aren’t you pumped to make like Katie Couric and Matt Lauer and work the New York crowd? “Well,” Mr. Glanville acknowledged, “it will be the first time I ever walked in front of a crowd without them booing and throwing shit.”

–Ian Blecher

Don’t sell those New York fans short, Jerry! Tonight on ESPN, there’s some more scintillating Preseason NFL Football with the good St. Louis Rams facing the crummy Dallas Cowboys. [ESPN, 28, 8:30 p.m.]

Friday, Aug. 25

Tonight Fox has TV’s Funniest Game Show Moments . Our pick: that time when that Fox executive said, “No, thanks, we’ll pass–who the hell would ever want to watch some prime-time quiz show with Regis Philbin?” [FOX, 5, 8 p.m.]

Saturday, Aug. 26

Will George W. Bush duck MTV? Last week at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, the rumor started flying around that the Texas governor was going to take a pass on a big pre-election interview with the music network. That would be good news for Vice President Al Gore, who is scheduled to appear on MTV on Sept. 26, and would thus have the Britney Spears and Eminem crowd all to himself.

An MTV spokesperson said that an invitation has been extended to Mr. Bush, and that they hadn’t been turned down yet. “We’re still waiting to hear,” the spokesperson said. Mr. Bush’s camp sounded enthusiastic but noncommittal. “Governor Bush did an interview with MTV during the primary election, and I know that we would like to do additional interviews or activities … [but] at this point we have not scheduled anything with them,” said a spokesperson for Mr. Bush, Ray Sullivan. “It’s a function of the governor’s time and travel schedule.”

Tonight, MTV personality Brian McFayden hosts the 18th annual Miss Teen U.S.A. Pageant on CBS, featuring obligatory performances by bubblegum pop groups you’ve never heard of. [WCBS, 2, 9 p.m.]

Sunday, Aug. 27

On Fox tonight, Futurama . Anyone besides NYTV see the poetry of Vice Presidential daughter Kristin Gore writing for a TV series about the life travails of … a robot? Talk about writing what you know. [FOX, 5, 7 p.m.]

Monday, Aug. 28

Tonight, Tiger Woods faces Sergio Garcia in the Battle at Bighorn . This is a hyped-up match play featuring the World’s Greatest Golfer Ever versus a Spanish guy who looks a lot like Adam Sandler, but plays a lot better than Happy Gilmore. [WABC, 7, 8 p.m.]

Tuesday, Aug. 29

John Stossel cries uncle! Not since 1984, when pro wrestler Dr. D infamously bitch-slapped him with the cameras rolling, has ABC News’ favorite mustached contrarian taken such a public beating. But this time, Mr. Stossel wasn’t pinned by a cranky wrestler but by a fearsome bunch of … organic farmers.

Mr. Stossel, of course, was forced to apologize a couple of weeks back for an erroneous 20/20 report on the alleged dangers of organic food. The report, first aired during February sweeps and then again in July, featured Mr. Stossel brandishing a bag of organic lettuce mix and wondering aloud, “Shouldn’t we do a warning that says this stuff could kill you, and buying organic could kill you?”

The 20/20 report outraged members of the Environmental Working Group and the Organic Trade Association, which together criticized Mr. Stossel’s reporting as misleading, insufficient and, in at least one case, nonexistent. In a classic smoking-gun discovery, the groups found that in one instance Mr. Stossel cited as evidence a study that had never actually been performed.

Yeeowww! Edward R. Murrow, is that you rolling in your grave?

The discoveries of the Environmental Working Group and the Organic Trade Association finally led to an on-air apology on Friday, Aug. 11, from Mr. Stossel and ABC News. Bringing a network news division to its knees is no small feat, but the veggie-lovers were far from satisfied by ABC’s mea culpa . “The apology, to my mind, was almost as untruthful as the original broadcast,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.

“It’s a good thing that Mr. Stossel had to finally … say he was in error, that he was wrong, that the test didn’t exist,” Mr. Cook continued, “but there’s a lot more to straighten out.” For example, he said, there was Mr. Stossel’s hyperbolic rhetorical question, in which he wondered whether or not organic food “could kill you.” Those were strong words, Mr. Cook said. “That’s what he didn’t fix.”

–Alex Riccobono

Tonight on Fox’s Titus , Titus’ alleged integrity is questioned. [FOX, 5, 8:30 p.m.]

Wednesday, Aug. 30

Geek nation, have we got a TV show for you! Comedy Central uncorks BattleBots , a new program devoted to the thrills and spills of every slide rule-toting quantum physics major’s favorite pastime: robot wrestling!

Part WWF, part Monster Trucks , part Nova , BattleBots is fetish-porn for the techie crowd and people who just like seeing stuff get smashed up. Teams of brainiacs create destructive radio-controlled robots, put them in a Plexiglas-encased cage and try to beat the tar out of each other. Rounds last three minutes and, bolt for bolt, the competition’s a heck of a lot more exciting than anything you’ll find on ESPN this fall.

“We want to be a leader in robotic sports,” bragged BattleBots producer Bradley Anderson, his tongue firmly in cheek.

Indeed, BattleBots is happy to play up the campy side of the famous robot competition, which has long been a staple of geek life in the San Francisco Bay Area. Like ring announcers at a Tyson fight, BattleBots ‘ hosts breathlessly tout the show’s inanimate competitors–dangerous gadgets with names like Missing Link, Frenzy and Overkill. Robot-makers provide their own commentary as well. “You have to make the other robot your bitch,” offered one fledgling Dr. Frankenstein.

Someone send these guys to George W. Bush for debate prep![COM, 45, 10:30 p.m.]

Thursday, Aug. 31

Tonight, A&E’s Biography examines the marriages of Elizabeth Taylor . With just a one-hour time slot, that’s seven and a half minutes per marriage. [A&E, 16, 8 p.m.]

Friday, Sept. 1

Making the Band was supposed to mark the debut of O-Town, this summer’s hottest band. Note to ABC: You are running out of summer. [WABC, 7, 9 p.m.]

Saturday, Sept. 2

Charlotte Ross is the star of Showtime’s Beggars and Choosers , a television show about a television network struggling in the ratings. You could call it ironic, then, that Beggars and Choosers itself is struggling in the ratings, which is why the 31-year-old Ms. Ross came to New York in mid-August for a five-day whirlwind P.R. tour, trying to gin up excitement for her ailing show.

” The New York Times compared us to The Larry Sanders Show ,” the blond starlet said over iced teas at the Rihga Royal Hotel in midtown on Wednesday, Aug. 16. “I love that because I thought it [ Larry Sanders ] was a brilliant show, but I think they were pointing out that it was never a huge ratings success.”

Ms. Ross plays Lori Volpone, the high-strung vice president of Beggars and Choosers ‘ fictional network. During her New York visit, she had done interviews with TV Guide and Regis Philbin, and was on her way to host Back to Back Videos on VH1. She had also managed to see Fosse , Contact and Copenhagen and to shop in Soho, the Village and along Fifth Avenue.

She had also turned down one offer that may have given her show a ratings boost. After chatting with Mr. Philbin on Live with Regis , Ms. Ross said she was approached by a representative from Playboy magazine.

“He said he had just finished shooting two things with Cindy Crawford,” Ms. Ross said. “He was a nice guy, but I’m not interested, thank you very much.”

–Deborah Netburn

Tonight on Showtime, The Thomas Crown Affair , featuring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo’s bare tushie. [SHOW, 48, 9 p.m.]

Sunday, Sept. 3

We like to joke around and have a good time here at NYTV–some have even criticized us for being incapable of dealing with serious topics–but once in a while, there’s a piece of television programming that demands our utmost attention and concern. Such is the case tonight, as the E! channel hosts a one-hour special entitled Supermodel Moms . Watch it with your entire family. [E!, 24, 8 p.m.]

Monday, Sept. 4

From the beginning of time, the third date has been the epochal moment of the human mating ritual. Really, almost any prospective couple can get along for a first-date dinner ‘n’ movie. The second date is a little tougher sledding–probing questions about family, exes et al.–but it’s the success of the third date that has historically separated the nookied from the nookie-less.

That’s the concept behind 3rd Date , a curious little show from the upstart New York cable channel Metro TV. On the show, new couples agree to have themselves trailed around with hand-held cameras for the crucial make-or-break third round. The result is a program that’s more intimate than the current syndicated hit, Blind Date , and proves the oldest rule in romantic television: There’s nothing more satisfying than watching some poor slob get dissed.

Last Thursday, Aug. 17, Metro and the producers of 3rd Date hosted a little scouting party at the Turtle Bay Grill & Lounge on the Upper East Side that was theoretically for couples who had already survived dates one and two. But NYTV aggressively investigated at the bar and couldn’t find a single couple that had actually come by for the 3rd Date party. We did, however, find Pete Moller, a 22-year-old financial analyst with very white teeth, who said he wouldn’t go on 3rd Date because he wasn’t dating anyone. Fair enough. But Mr. Moller didn’t want one of the pink key chains with condoms that the 3rd Date posse was passing out. NYTV asked him if he would watch a show like 3rd Date . He didn’t sound so sure. “You watch Blind Date because you know it’s going to fail,” Mr. Moller said. “But how much fun is it watching people go out and have a good time?”

Well, Mr. Happy, maybe we’re getting to the reason behind your love-life drought, now, aren’t we? Now take one of those freakin’ condom key chains and hit the phones! [MET, 70, 10 p.m.]

Tuesday, Sept. 5

Big Brother . If nothing else, this is officially The Show That Will Never Leave. [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]

–with reporting by Elisabeth Franck