NBC counts on ‘Fear’

Peacock skeds celebrity version in sweeps

NBC is stirring up some “Fear” this sweeps.

Peacock has decided to sked a celebrity edition of its controversial reality skein “Fear Factor” on the last Tuesday of the all-important November ratings sweeps. Episode will air Nov. 27 at 8 p.m., bumping “Three Sisters” and the on-hiatus “Emeril.”

In a bit of further sweeps strategizing, seg will run seven minutes over its usual hourlong length, running smack dab into the first part of the fourth episode of Fox’s much-hyped, critically acclaimed new drama “24.”

Separately, Peacock has ordered three scripts of frosh drama “UC: Undercover.”

As for “Fear,” NBC had seriously considered stunting the celeb edition opposite next week’s series premiere of “24,” but opted against the move because of inadequate promo lead time.

Celebs recruited for the spec include Donny Osmond, Kelly Preston (“Jerry Maguire”), David Hasselhoff and Brooke Burns (“Baywatch”), rapper Coolio and Joanie Laurer (aka Chyna from the WWF.) Each will play for charity.

New episodes of “Fear” weren’t slated to bow until January; the celeb edition was going to serve as the show’s second-season premiere. But when a rough cut of the episode came in a few weeks ago, NBC execs started thinking a sweeps play made sense.

“We just wanted to get it on,” said NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker. “It’s a really great episode.”

“Fear” will still debut as planned in January, with NBC upping its total order of the Endemol-produced skein to 15 episodes. There’s no word yet on a timeslot, but insiders speculate NBC may run episodes Mondays at 9 p.m., displacing “Third Watch.”

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the subsequent Afghan war and the anthrax scare, some industry observes had questioned whether “Fear” would still pack the same punch it did during its megasuccessful run this past summer. Questions also have been raised about whether it’s appropriate to subject contestants to staged frightfests when Americans are facing terror alerts and biochem scares in their daily lives.

Zucker isn’t buying any of those arguments.

“What the audience has been telling us over the last few weeks is that they want to be entertained,” he said. “It’s our job to entertain people, and this show is incredibly entertaining. I’m not going to get caught up in psychoanalyzing the American public.”

What’s more, Zucker believes the special “Fear” will be a big boost to the Peacock’s Tuesday bottom line. “We’re going to probably double what we would have done in that timeslot,” he said.

NBC wouldn’t say exactly what kinds of stunts celebs would have to endure, though Zucker said one challenge involved worms and scorpions.

If the first celeb “Fear” does well, NBC will likely order one or two more.

“Fear” was the summer’s top-rated skein among adults 18-49, averaging a 5.7 rating/18 share with the key demo. On average, skein attracted 12.3 million viewers.

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