This summer's TV is all too real

The best defense of reality TV shows is that the fiction series they're bumping aren't exactly Shakespeare, Ibsen, or Shaw. Let's face it: To "dumb down" TV from its current state would be a formidable task (with apologies here to "West Wing").

The world probably won't miss another sitcom about young single professionals in New York or L.A. any more than it must have yet another knockoff of "Survivor."

Just a year ago, "Survivor" became the most talked-about thing on TV. Now its nonfiction siblings are threatening to take over the tube. In last week's Nielsen ratings, only three "scripted" programs ranked among the Top 10 ("Friends," "Everyone Loves Raymond," and "Becker"). The rest were reality and game shows, and newsmagazines. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" was the correct answer to the question, "Which show grabbed the top three spots?"

NBC, the last of the old big three networks to jump into reality shows, now wins Monday night with two of them: "The Weakest Link" and "Fear Factor."

The shows just keep coming. Animal Planet introduced "Animal Precinct" this week, a "Cops"-style show where police rescue furry, four-footed, or feathered victims.

Even "Survivor" made news. The Associated Press reported this week that "Survivor III" may be taped in Kenya's Shaba Game Reserve, where the popular film "Born Free" was shot in 1966.

And the BBC is asking for volunteers to live in muddy trenches (with, yes, rats, and shells exploding overhead) to re-create the conditions faced by soldiers in World War I. One shudders at what this might be twisted into if it leapt the Atlantic: Anyone for a game of hoist the flag on Iwo Jima?

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