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Stations wooing wedding skeins

Fox resurrecting 'I Do'

The wedding may be off for Fox, but a plethora of nuptials may still hit the airwaves next fall, thanks to the ratings success of “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire.”

Two syndicated projects, thought to be all but dead only days ago, now may be on the fast track to station clearances despite the controversy surrounding the genre.

Twentieth TV axed a follow-up to the high-rated special, but the company is resuscitating fellow marriage-oriented strip “I Do, I Don’t” for the upcoming fall season. The pilot didn’t make it to the National Assn. of Television Program Executives market last month, but thanks to wed-mania, the series is now being shopped and may pin down clearance deals within weeks.

The show will take place in Las Vegas, where couples about to embark on matrimony will go through a series of tests to determine if they are compatible. Analysts and audiences then will vote to see if the couple should marry. If the pair still decides to go through with the vows, the ceremony will take place at the end of the episode.

Meanwhile, Universal brought “Wed at First Sight” to NATPE with curious buzz about a show in which two people meet for the first time and exchange vows. The show didn’t clear as well as the company hoped, and many thought it dead until the Fox special hit the airwaves last week. Now, several stations have renewed interest in the series, but it may be too late. In the post-“Multimillionaire” haze, Universal TV execs were scrambling to recover from a crucial mistake they made in mid-February: TV station sources said that early last week, Universal told the stations that had committed to “Wed at First Sight” at NATPE that the show would not go ahead for the 2000-01 season because U did not want to pay WWOR a big weekly license fee to clear the New York market.

“We got the clear message from Universal that the show didn’t have a chance because it wouldn’t get a New York deal,” said Chuck Dunning, VP of sales for XETV, the Fox affiliate in San Diego, which had bought the show for its daytime schedule.

A spokeswoman for Universal said she’s not commenting on the state of “Wed.”

But in the wake of the huge numbers harvested Feb. 15 by “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire,” Universal has begun to explore other strategies to keep the show alive. An NBC owned-and-operated station source said that the network’s Philadelphia station, WCAU, is talking to Universal about scheduling a two-week test of the show this summer.

If that test run scores in the Nielsens, Universal would gear up to get “Wed at First Sight” back on track as a 60-minute strip aimed at January or September 2001.

The Universal spokeswoman did say that unlike “Multimillionaire,” all parties involved on the show have the opportunity to back out of the nuptials if so desired and that to avoid the “Multimillionaire”-like controversies, all would-be brides and grooms would be thoroughly investigated.

” ‘Wed’ always planned to have a medical, psychological and a criminal background check on each and every participant,” said the spokeswoman.

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