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ABC, NBC ‘Duel’ for Christmas

Networks gear up for holiday ratings battle

‘Twas the week before Christmas … and at least in primetime … there was plenty of stirring … in the hour before 9.

ABC and NBC aren’t taking the holiday off from the ratings wars. Both nets have slated new, weeklong gameshows at 8 p.m. beginning Dec. 17, promising one last Nielsen battle royale before the end of 2007.

Both take a page from ABC’s 1999 launch of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” which bowed as a weeklong strip and returned later for a second strip before becoming a regular series.

But beyond their scheduling pattern, the two competition shows couldn’t be more different.

In ABC’s “Duel” — described as a cross between “Millionaire” and “World Series of Poker” — contestants must manipulate their opponents to win a jackpot. Show bows Monday, Dec. 17 with 20 contestants, to be whittled down night-by-night until the finalists battle for the jackpot on Sunday, Dec. 23.

NBC’s much breezier “Clash of the Choirs” follows five professional musicians (Michael Bolton, Patti LaBelle and others) as they form a choir and train them to compete on the show. (Call it “Creating a Choir With the Stars.”)

Show, which bows with a two-hour episode on Monday, Dec. 17, and continues until Thursday, Dec. 20, is specifically geared toward the holidays (perhaps with an eye toward becoming an annual event).

Whether or not there’s room for two gameshow strips at 8 p.m. the week before Christmas — one an intense thriller, the other a lighthearted musical — remains to be seen.

But, the theory goes, people on holiday vacation or with relatives in town still spend a great deal of time at home, particularly in primetime. Rather than serving up the usual repeats, the nets wanted to do something fresh. Hence the movement toward limited run, weeklong series.

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