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Is 'Fear Factor' Finished?

February 27, 2006 12:00 AM

After six seasons of bug consumption, rat cages and multistory freefalls, "Fear Factor" may have wrapped up its last gross-though-profitable challenge. Staffers on NBC's longest-running reality series are said to have moved on to their next jobs, which means newlyweds and Playboy Bunnies interested in having their heads buried in frogs for the chance to win 50 grand will have to look elsewhere. An NBC spokeswoman said production for the current season has been completed and the network has not decided whether to bring "Fear Factor" back for 2006-07. But fear not, "Factor" fans: NBC still has original, unaired episodes that will run during the summer. -Christopher Lisotta

Casting a Wide Net

During his first quarterly CBS earnings call since the network's parent company was split into CBS Corp. and Viacom, CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves slipped in a pitch for The CW, a joint venture that will result from the merger of CBS-owned UPN and Warner Bros. Television-controlled The WB. Although many local TV executives have flinched at the thought of paying reverse compensation to be affiliated with The CW, "We already have offers in many, many markets to pay reverse comp, but it is only one of the factors [in deciding who gets the nod]," Mr. Moonves said last week. "The other factor is having a very strong affiliate base." This week is expected to bring announcements of some of the stations-beyond the CBS-owned UPN-affiliated stations and the Tribune-owned WB-affiliated stations that were guaranteed affiliate status from the get-go-that will be the building blocks of that base. "That's announcements, plural," said a source close to The CW about what to expect. -Michele Greppi And Jay Sherman

Dialing for Dollars

With legislation pending to reform the nation's local TV franchising system, AT&T appeared to be winning the battle for the hearts and minds of key lawmakers last week-or at least for their wallets. According to the watchdog Center for Responsive Politics, the telephone giant has emerged as the top contributor to the campaign war chests of several legislators, including Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee ($12,000); Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the subcommittee's ranking minority member ($10,000); and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the House Energy and Commerce Committee's ranking minority member ($10,000). But Comcast, according to the center, gave $25,000 to score as the top contributor to Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The top contributor to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, according to the center, was News Corp., with $43,250, and AT&T was ranked third on the senator's top donor list, with contributions of $26,000. Getting honorable mentions for the cable TV industry was the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which donated $10,000 apiece to Reps. Upton and Barton. AT&T, meanwhile, chipped in $11,000 for Rep. Barton, while Comcast donated $10,000 to Rep. Upton-enough to win the cable giant ranking as the subcommittee chairman's third-highest contributor. Said Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy: "They're buying access-not the broadband kind."-Doug Halonen

FSN: It's Just the Ticket

Fox Sports has decided that when it comes to names, nostalgia works better than numbers. The sports network is rebranding its Los Angeles-based Fox Sports West 2 as FSN Prime Ticket-a name recalling the Liberty Media-owned Prime Ticket network that covered Western regional sports from 1985 until 1996, when it was purchased by Fox parent News Corp. FSN West 2 will officially switch to its new name April 3, the Los Angeles Dodgers' opening day. "There's been some thought about it for some time about whether the '2' creates a stigma in the viewer's mind," said Steve Simpson, VP and general manager of FSN West and FSN West 2. "We did some focus groups, and there's been some confusion about whether the channel has leftovers or secondary programming that confirmed what we've suspected." FSN West will carry games of national interest, such as those involving the Los Angeles Lakers, Kings and Angels and others. Prime Ticket will be a "hyper-local channel," covering the Dodgers, Los Angeles Clippers and Anaheim Ducks as well as several college teams. Along with the renaming, West and West 2 each will be branded to closer align with their respective teams. The Los Angeles market has been a particular challenge for Fox Sports since it's the only area with two regional networks. FSN West and FSN West 2 serve Southern California, Hawaii and Nevada and are two of Fox's 18 locally managed regional sports networks. -James Hibberd

Probst the Producer

"Survivor" host Jeff Probst is one of the best-known on-air reality talents in television, but for his next adventure he is going to try to survive the tough world of producing reality programming. Mr. Probst, who wrote and directed the independent feature "Finder's Fee" in 2001, is developing a reality show for CBS with Boston-based Scout Productions ("Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"), which is making its first foray into producing for broadcast TV. The project is being described as a spiritual "Extreme Makeover," a format that is proving to be popular-ABC and reality producer Endemol Entertainment USA are developing a similar project. ABC,CBS and Scout had no comment, while Endemol did not respond by press time. As for Mr. Probst, he had no comment either. But surely he realizes there are no immunity idols in the competitive world of reality TV development. -Christopher Lisotta