Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Lifestyle

ABC hopes 'Mole' digs up interest

Lynn Elber
Associated Press

"The Mole" is ready to burrow its way into ABC's schedule.

The reality TV series, which will premiere Jan. 9, follows 10 contestants in a worldwide competition for a prize of up to $1 million. The twist: There's a saboteur -- or "mole" -- trying to thwart them, and fingering the person is part of the game.

"The Mole," with former ABC News correspondent Anderson Cooper as host, is ABC's attempt to match the ratings glory of CBS's "Survivor."

Might it instead be a "Big Broth
er"-style flop?

"We believe in the format," said Andrea Wong, ABC's senior vice president for alternative series and specials. "We had the time to edit the shows together to make compelling drama, and we have a great cast."

ABC is giving "The Mole" a strong launching pad. It will air in the 8 p.m. Tuesday time slot now held by "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," which will move to 8 p.m. Friday.

Regis Philbin's quiz show will bump "Madigan Men," which has been canceled, and "Dot Comedy" in a reshuffled Friday night lineup. The latter, a new reality Internet comedy show, is slated to return at some point.

Filming has been completed on the nine episodes of "The Mole," and the network is keeping mum about the players' identities. Wong would say only that they are a diverse group, split between men and women, representing various ethnic groups and ranging in age from 20s to 60s.

The mole was picked from among the contestants. The competition took place in four countries over two continents; those locations also are secret for now.

"The Mole" is similar in concept to "Survivor," which pitted players against each other in various challenges. Contestants on the ABC show also face physical and psychological tests while attempting to unearth the mole's identity.

Players are "executed" -- ejected from the game -- for failing to glean details about the mole, Wong said. The winner is the one who has learned the most about the saboteur.

A version of the show was a hit in Belgium, and the format has been sold in 40 countries, Wong said.

Asked if viewers might be tiring of reality shows, Wong said the real issue is having a strong story and characters.

"It's not about what is a fad and what is not," she said.

Although ABC's "Millionaire" has been losing steam with viewers, it remains a ratings leader on its four weeknights. ABC is betting "Millionaire" will kick-start its struggling Friday lineup, which includes the sitcoms "Norm" and "Two Guys and a Girl."

"Two Guys and a Girl" will move from 8 to 9 p.m., while "Norm" moves from 9 to 9:30 to replace "Madigan Men."


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