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Spike developing unscripted pilots

Macho lineup includes 'Cobra,' 'Predators'

Spike TV, harvesting some of the best ratings since it became the men’s-action network in August 2003, has put out a list of testosterone-fueled unscripted pilots whose theme is tough guys doing dangerous jobs.

The one-hour pilots include “River Men,” about the workers who steer massive barges with tons of cargo through the treacherous waters of the Mississippi River; “USA vs. the World,” which pits Americans in hazardous occupations against their foreign counterparts (with Florida alligator wranglers facing off with Australian crocodile trainers in the pilot); “Tank & Cobra,” featuring a pair of real-life bounty hunters; and “Human Predators,” about “men who take lives, either professionally or criminally.”

Spike is ramping up its pilot development to keep the Nielsen momentum going, having delivered its best April primetime numbers ever last month, rocketing by 56% over the same period in 2007. The network finished fourth overall in total primetime viewers among ad-supported cable networks in April, driven by multiple runs of the six “Star Wars” movies and the network’s high-rated reruns of “CSI.”

But Doug Herzog, president of the MTV Networks Entertainment Group, which includes Spike TV, points to original programming such as the “Ultimate Fighting Championship,” a mixed-martial-arts competition series going into its seventh season, which regularly piles up more than 2 million viewers, about 55% of whom, on average, are men 18 to 49.

Another original series, “Total Nonstop Action,” is a Nashville-based professional-wrestling organization that stresses athleticism in the ring as much as muscle power. “TNA” has grown steadily in popularity since it started in October 2005 as a weekly series.

Sharon Levy, senior VP of original series for Spike TV, said that the network has signed Kurt Angle, the TNA champion, to become host of “Caught in the Action,” a hidden-camera show. Another signing: Cade Courtley, an actor, writer and former Navy SEAL, who’ll host “Surviving Terror.”

Another pilot in the works is “Idiot Hall of Fame,” a half-hour latenight show that uses real footage showing men doing stupid things.

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