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Networks Will Never Vote These Guys Off the Island

Concept for a can’t-fail reality TV series:

Hundreds of American males, ages 21 to 41, are invited to participate in the ultimate survival-team competition. They are assigned to tribes based in camps across the country. Each tribe has its own name and color scheme. Participants must wear ridiculous-looking costumes, masks and headgear, and have to grunt a lot.

Contestants begin by engaging in a variety of strenuous physical challenges. Cutdown begins immediately. Every day, someone somewhere hears, “You’re fired!”

After several weeks, the best, brightest and fittest from each tribe advance to the team phase of the competition. Alliances are formed. Acrimony escalates. Much sweating, swearing and violence ensue. Foibles, fumbles and miscues are played and replayed on television, on a never-ending loop, as a national viewing audience becomes increasingly addicted by the week.

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After eight to 10 episodes, tribes begin to face elimination. On certain struggling teams, the tables can be turned, enabling apprentices to conspire to get the boss fired and replaced by an interim boss.

By the end of the 17th episode, nearly two-thirds of the original cast have been eliminated. The remaining survivors advance to the third, and most grueling, phase of the competition. The four best-performing tribes to that point receive immunity for one week.

Elimination continues until two tribes are left. Those contestants are dispatched to a warm-weather city for the climactic showdown. The national viewing audience reaches meltdown mode. The lead-in hype is unbearable. Winning participants receive individual cash prizes of $64,000, magazine cover shots and trips to Disney World, with a select few earning Hawaiian vacations, all expenses paid.

This reality series to end all reality series already has a name.

It is called the National Football League.

Fox and CBS coughed up $8 billion this week for the right/privilege to remain affiliated with this American TV phenomenon. And no wonder. According to statistics recently released by the NFL, the league’s regular-season programming accounts for the country’s three most-watched shows among men ages 18 to 49. They are:

* Fox’s Sunday national NFL telecast, with an average rating of 11.0.

* CBS’ Sunday national NFL telecast, 10.1.

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* ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” 9.4.

According to the study, only three of the top 10 shows watched by American males 18 to 49 are not NFL-related: No. 4 “CSI” on CBS (8.6); No. 6 “Desperate Housewives” on ABC (6.9); and No. 8 (tied) “Survivor” on CBS (6.2).

For desperate television executives intent on remaining survivors, the NFL is the mother lode. It is intriguing, and telling, that the NFL would announce its new contracts with CBS and Fox during a 19-day streak during which football fans can get their daily fix of either the NFL or the NFL’s feeder system, college football, with at least one game televised live each day.

Are we saturated yet? Has the mine been stripped clean now?

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Apparently not. Included in the NFL’s new TV deal are plans for Thursday and Saturday prime-time telecasts, beginning in 2006. So, starting around Thanksgiving ’06, there will be more NFL days a week -- four -- than non-NFL days.

One possible downside: Continued proliferation of NFL pregame shows, which rates as potentially positive news for Deion Sanders and nobody else.

Available for viewing this weekend:

TODAY

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* UCLA at Oregon

Channel 7, 12:30 p.m.)

The Bruins were blacked out last Saturday, so here is what you might have missed: UCLA, favored by two touchdowns over Washington State, lost at home, 31-29, failing to wrap up its sixth victory, which would have made the Bruins bowl-eligible. Now, the Bruins must upset Oregon on the road, or USC, to earn a bowl bid. On the bright side, UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell promises potential recruits the chance to play right away!

* Arizona at USC

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(FSNW, 7:15 p.m.)

Across town, the Trojans were not blacked out last Saturday, although it appeared that way. Trojan fans watching on television could periodically see the Trojans, and/or the football, amid a thick fog that engulfed Oregon State’s Reser Stadium -- and, very nearly, USC’s title aspirations with it. USC prevailed, barely, 28-20, and takes a 9-0 record into the Arizona game. Tonight’s conditions: No fog expected, Wildcats are 2-7, Trojans favored by 35.

SUNDAY

* Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns

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(Channel 2, 10 a.m.)

First, they beat The Super Team of Two Weeks Ago, New England. Then they beat The Super Team of Last Week, Philadelphia. Now, the Steelers are the NFL’s Super Team of This Week. At least until 1 p.m. Sunday.

* Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams

(Channel 11, 10 a.m.)

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In the teams’ first meeting, Seattle blew a 17-point lead at home and lost to the Rams in overtime. Last Sunday, the Rams lost at home to an injury-wracked New England team by 18 points. And the winner of this game, very likely, will represent the NFC West in the playoffs.

* MLS Cup: D.C. United vs. Kansas City Wizards

(Channel 7, 12:30 p.m.)

Freddy-mania, an update: In his first 30 games as a professional soccer player, Freddy Adu started fewer than half of D.C. United’s games, 14; averaged barely a half in each game he played, 48 minutes a game; scored five goals, had three assists, turned 15 and reached the MLS championship game, which will be played at the Home Depot Center. So Adu didn’t quite storm the league as a rookie. On the plus side, Galaxy fans who bought tickets well in advance for this game still have a reason to use them.

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