Press tour turns toward nets

Networks gunning to meet reality criticism head-on

HOLLYWOOD — Critics — no fans of reality TV– are sharpening their knives as the broadcast webs get ready to meet the press this week.

This summer’s reality-palooza will likely be the focus of several questions when NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, UPN and the WB hold their portions of the Television Critics Assn. press tour.

Despite all that, the nets are gunning to meet the criticism head-on. Shows like “For Love or Money,” “Cupid” and “America’s Next Top Model” have breathed new life into the webs’ summer schedules, giving them reason to defend the trend.

ABC has even scheduled a session with Roseanne Barr –who has had her share of run-ins with critics through the years — to promote her summer reality skein, “The Real Roseanne Show.”

Meanwhile, week one of the semi-annual crix tour, dominated by presentations from a wide variety of cable nets, held few surprises.

Cablers unveiled their new wares, many of which had been previously announced.

MTV did raise a few eyebrows by announcing it had ordered a fourth season — 20 additional segs — of mainstay “The Osbournes,” despite cooling ratings for its third edition.

“If you thought we wouldn’t re-sign it for another season, you’re crazy,” MTV prexy Van Toffler said.

Gay-themed programming was also the order of the day, as one cabler — Bravo — touted several upcoming gay-friendly series, while another — Showtime — announced it had put its gay-oriented channel on hold.

Showtime Networks CEO Matthew Blank admitted to reporters last week that Viacom did not have the momentum to launch a gay-oriented cable channel just yet. Showtime and sib MTV Networks had accelerated plans in recent months to start such a channel, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, with NBC-owned Bravo about to roll out its new gay-themed skeins “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Boy Meets Boy,” channel chief Jeff Gaspin said he had encountered no backlash.

“Boy” begins with a “Bachelor”-style setup, but the likely controversy stems from the gimmick: Not all of the potential mates are actually gay.

“NBC has always been supportive of gay-themed shows like ‘Will & Grace’ and ‘The Matthew Shepard Story,'” he says. “You’d hope and expect that this country has more tolerance. I believe it will actually break some stereotypes.”

New projects announced last week included TNN/Spike TV’s semi-scripted “The Joe Schmo Show,” in which an ordinary guy is tricked into thinking he’s in a reality show; VH1’s docuseries “Inside Out”; Bravo’s “underExposed,” produced by “Will & Grace’s” Sean Hayes; and USA Network’s “Touching Evil,” from the Hughes Brothers, Arnold Rifkin and Bruce Willis.

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