Two races, 'Eco-Challenge' and 'Cannonball Run,' on cabler's slate

NEW YORK — USA Network has landed the rights to two event-driven primetime specials: “Armed Forces Eco-Challenge” and “The Real Cannonball Run 2001.”

“Armed Forces Eco-Challenge” is a three-to-five-day expedition race in which 26 mixed-gender teams of four participants (drawn from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard) vie with each other across a 250-mile course in remote areas of Alaska.

The winning team goes on to next year’s “Eco-Challenge” in New Zealand. USA’s cablecast of this year’s “Eco-Challenge” from Borneo for five hours over four nights (April 1-4) delivered an average 2 rating in cable homes, the best Nielsen performance ever for the annual “Eco-Challenge” event, which had run in previous years on the Discovery Channel.

“The Real Cannonball Run 2001” (tentative title) follows 18 contestants in six souped-up vehicles who will compete in a cross-country match on back roads from New York to California. USA will cablecast the event as a five-hour special this August.

The original Cannonball Run competition in 1971 generated so much publicity that it spawned four theatrical movies: “Cannonball” (1976) “The Gumball Rally” (1976), “Cannonball Run” (1981) and “Cannonball Run II” (1984).

“Armed Forces Eco-Challenge” is exec produced by Mark Burnett (“Survivor”). “Real Cannonball Run” comes from GRB Prods. and the producers Beau Flynn and Dawn Parouse.

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