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Idolizing a New Genre

1/23/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

Los Angeles— Watch out Simon Cowell: The cable industry is gearing up to present its own versions of the rags-to-riches reality genre.

Oxygen (Mr. Romance), SoapNet (I Wanna Be a Soap Star), Food Network (The Next Food Network Star) and E! Entertainment Television (The Entertainer) all offered their respective takes on the talent-based reality genre at the recent Television Critics Association press tour, in hopes of riding the wave of ratings driven by Fox’s American Idol, UPN’s The Next Top Model and USA Network’s Nashville Star.

The third season of the latter series’ search for the next country-music star bows March 1.

Cable executives believe that reality competition shows like E!’s The Entertainer — which launched Jan. 23 and features various performers competing to win a stint performing at a Las Vegas hotel — have a chance to siphon viewers away from American Idol, which bowed its fourth season on Fox last week.

In particular, SoapNet and Oxygen hope their respective shows attract the young female viewers drawn to the genre.

SoapNet’s sophomore Soap Star series is slated to return in June, looking to best the 1 million 18-to-49-year-old female viewers it averaged during its initial eight-week run last September, according to network executives.

The series pits would-be actors in a series of acting tests in an effort to land a role on ABC’s All My Children.

“We knew it would fascinate viewers, not only from the point of view that it’s a competition, but the idea of getting a behind-the-scenes look at how you get on television, I think, is universally interesting,” said SoapNet general manager Deborah Blackwell.

Oxygen is offering its viewers a chance to glance at the next Harlequin romance coverboy via its new series Mr. Romance, set to bow in March. Longtime Harlequin model Fabio will star in the series, in which 12 guys partake in a veritable “romance boot camp” in preparation to compete in the Mr. Romance man-pageant.

“There’s an appetite for this type of programming,” said Oxygen vice president of programming Debbie Beece, although she declined to project a rating for the show.

Food is offering a slight twist on the genre with The Next Food Network Star. The six-part series, to air in June, has viewers vying for a shot at developing their own cooking show for the Scripps service, beginning in September.

Food Network president Brooke Johnson hopes the stint could cook up a full-time Food gig for the winner. Unlike many of the other shows in the genre, said Johnson, The Next Food Network Star is a true interactive show in which the viewers are the stars.

March