On Wednesday night, viewers could watch the live premiere of "Star Search," CBS' version of the Fox smash "American Idol" with an over-revved Arsenio Hall presiding and a $100,000 grand prize at stake.
First off for that talent contest (which will air Wednesdays and Thursdays through Feb. 6): 13-year-old Meaghan Markert beat out a moppet rapper with her rendition of "Ave Maria." Thus did little Eric Kidd get the hook, along with a model, a comedian and a singer.
Later, on ABC, viewers could see seven contenders loosely billed as celebrities (including actor Stephen Baldwin and supermodel Frederique) try to flush out the "double agent" infiltrating the group on "Celebrity Mole Hawaii." The first "victim" of the unknown mole: former "Living Single" star Coles, sent packing at the end of the hour.
In between, ABC unveiled "The Bachelorette," which, turning the tables on its successful "Bachelor" predecessors, turned lovely 29-year-old Trista Rehn loose to choose her dream man from 25 eager suitors. A pediatric physical therapist from Miami, Rehn was jilted last April by Alex Michel, the original "Bachelor." Now she was back - and, this time, the boss.
After limos dispatched all 25 hopefuls to her L.A. bachelorette pad, Rehn received them at a cocktail party.
"Ohhh my Godddddd, I can't believe I'm herrrrree!" she squealed.
Ryan, a firefighter from Vail, Colo., brought her a poem.
Russ, a writer from San Rafael, Calif., brought her a Tiffany bracelet, which annoyed Brook, a rodeo cowboy from Dallas. "Girls are not that dumb," he complained.
And Brian K., a breast-implant salesman from San Francisco, brought some work-related wisecracks.
By hour's end, the bachelorette had offered boutonnieres to the 15 men who made her first cut. (Brian K. wasn't among them.) Then she started to cry as the other 10 began to take their leave.
"It really hurt my heart to think that I could be making someone else sad," she said later.
Wednesday's shows premiered in a week that on Thursday ushers in the WB's "The Surreal Life," which packs a house in Hollywood with celebrity has-beens like Corey Feldman and Emmanuel Lewis, then invites them to get on one another's nerves.
Also Thursday, the WB repeats the debut of its Sunday reality series, "High School Reunion," which gathers 17 classmates from a decade ago for two steamy weeks in Hawaii.
And don't forget Fox's new hit "Joe Millionaire," which blends a "Bachelor"-like mating game with a wicked joke: the 20 beautiful rivals for Evan Marriott's love have no idea he's a $19,000-a-year construction worker, rather than the fabulously wealthy heir he pretends to be.
But this is no joke: "Joe Millionaire" attracted a huge 18.6 million viewers for its premiere Monday night.
By Frazier Moore