Through the Wire

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Here She Comes … Ms. F.A.T.

Country Music Television may have gained the rights to the Miss America pageant, but Oxygen’s on the beauty-pageant beat, too. It just may need wider walkways to accommodate its competitors.

The women’s-targeted service is teaming with comedienne Mo’nique on a full-figured pageant set to bow Aug. 6 at 8 p.m. The two-hour Mo’nique’s Fat Chance special will pit 10 plus-sized women in what’s billed as cable’s first full-figured beauty competition, according to network executives speaking at the Television Critics Association Tour in Beverly Hills last Thursday.

While Miss America’s winner may be adorned with a tiara, the queen of Oxygen’s pageant can strut — perhaps not so lightly — with the title of “Ms. F.A.T.” For those not in the know, that stands for “Fabulous and Thick.”

One of the judges for the competition is a pretty large fellow himself, NBA All-Star Shaquille O’Neal. The seven-foot Miami Heat center, whose weight has been estimated at anywhere from 325 to 375 pounds, will assess the contestants on beauty, style, poise and personality, said Oxygen Media Inc. president of programming and marketing Debby Beece.

Can anybody say the Big Evaluator?

Networks Still Upping Gambling-Genre Ante

Cable’s love affair with gambling isn’t about to crap out anytime soon.

Court TV and CMT are the latest networks betting that America’s fascination/obsession with poker and casino gaming will return significant ratings chips.

At the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills last week, Court executives told pundits that it will roll the dice on a Dec. 8 special, Al Roker Investigates: Kids, Cards and Dice, which explores the culture of betting among high school and college age kids. The one-hour show will talk to students, parents and gambling experts about the growing phenomenon.

The network will also air The Takedown, a reality series in which con artist Paul Wilson looks to beat the casinos and hustlers through high-tech gadgets and skill.

For its part, officials at Viacom Inc.-owned CMT staked October Man vs. Vegas, an eight-part reality series in which an ambitious high roller returns to Las Vegas several years after gambling away $3 million. They told the critics that gambler Daren Leverenz, flush with $1 million, will attempt to regain his lost cash, while helping other amateur gamblers win in Sin City.

GSN, which already had dealt itself into the genre, will begin production on The James Woods Gang vs. The Unabombers in Poker Royale on July 25 at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif. Woods will lead a team of celebrities against pro players like Phil “The Unabomber” Laak and Jennifer Tilly in a no-limit Texas Hold 'Em tournament.

Two days later GSN will go all in with two days worth of shooting at the same venue on Poker Royale: Battle of the Ages, pitting the top six poker players over 60 against six top players under 30. Welcome Back, Kotter’s Gabe Kaplan and T.J. Cloutier represent the grizzled veterans, while Dutch Boyd and Michael Gracz are among the whipper-snappers.

The network has also ordered a pilot Annie Duke Takes on the World in which amateurs compete for the right to be taunted and harassed by — and ultimately play against — the pro poker star.

Reality Potpourri Seen Coming to MTV, VH1

Take a veteran hip-hop star, sprinkle in an aging rocker with a long tongue, and garnish with former kid star and an ex-Brady Bunch member and you have the ingredients for several new reality series on MTV and VH1.

In October, MTV will debut a hip-hop reality sitcom, Run’s House, which will follow the lives of former Run DMC frontman Rev. Joey Simmons and his family, MTV Music Group president Brian Graden told the press at the Television Critics Association tour. The series, produced by Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Russell Simmons, will give viewers “an inside look at the lives of hip-hop royalty,” Graden noted.

Keeping with a network family theme, former Nickelodeon child star Nick Cannon will star in a new sketch comedy and improv series set to premiere July 28. Nick Cannon Presents: Wild 'n’ Out will feature two teams of comics — one headed by Cannon, the other by a celebrity guest — going head-to-head in a series of “improv battles,” said the network.

On VH1, Gene Simmons of KISS fame will wag his tongue and fingers at classical music-trained boarding-school students as he tries to covert the Brits into a hard rock band. Gene Simmons Rock School debuts next month.

September will feature the premiere of My Fair Brady, a reality series chronicling the lives of Hollywood couple Adrianne Curry (America’s Next Top Model) and former Brady Bunch star Christopher Knight. The two met on the net’s The Surreal Life 4 skein. My Fair Brady marks the service’s second reality series spinoff: Last year, the network bowed Strange Love, starring The Surreal Life 3 cast members Flavor Flav and Brigitte Nielsen.

Anybody want to wager on the next pairing springing from The Surreal Life 5 cast of supermodel Janice Dickinson, The Apprentice’s Omarosa, steroids slugger Jose Canseco, U.K. glamour model Caprice, Salt’n-Pepa’s Sandi Denton, actor Bronson Pinchot (Perfect Strangers’s Balki Bartokomous) and motocross star Carey Hart?