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Reality programs get a second wind

Who will be sent home brokenhearted? Who will get to know Aaron better and accept the rose? Next to whether we should invade Iraq, the most pressing question for many Americans has been trying to guess the ultimate winner on ABC's 'The Bachelor.'

Imagine the pressure on poor Aaron Ñ having to whittle his bevy of fawning beauties to a single choice. Though it could be worse for the 28-year-old bank executive: One of his dates could be Anna Nicole Smith. I'm guessing that Helene, the school psychologist, grabs the final petals and, who knows, maybe even a marriage proposal. Ya think?

But there's something more happening here. 'The Bachelor,' a Wednesday night blockbuster, has helped spur a resurgence of so-called reality programming that I thought had hit its peak with 'Survivor 2' and 'The Osbournes.' 'The Bachelor' even has been beating out NBC's 'The West Wing' in head-to-head competition, for goodness' sake.

Who knew? Especially considering that this fall, there wasn't a single new reality show inserted into the network lineups, while dramas continued to multiply at a frightening pace. But if TV viewers have proved anything in the past 50 years, it's that they always turn to the tube to escape real life. Hence, the enduring appeal of reality shows Ñ even though the best ones are actually more surreal than real.

Now, the major networks and cable channels (including MTV, which started all this with 'The Real World') are falling all over themselves to develop new reality offerings and spinoffs of existing shows.

The creator of Fox's 'American Idol,' last summer's TV phenomenon, is working on a show that features show biz has-beens who want to resurrect their pop idol status. The idea is that people such as Debbie Gibson or Leif Garrett will perform, and the winner will receiver a new recording contract. Imagine seeing nasty Simon Cowell of 'American Idol' weighing in on a Garrett comeback. We can only hope.

Also coming soon to a network near you: 'Will,' in which relatives compete to see who gets what from a deceased family member's estate.

However, there's one 'reality' show that didn't make it past the concept stage: VH1 has decided to stop production of a reality show featuring Liza Minnelli and her new husband, David Gest. Which proves that even reality Ñ as hot as it is Ñ has its limits.

Pete Schulberg is the host of 'Portland's Morning News' on KPAM (860 AM). Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..