ABC plans Super 'Wipeout'

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On Super Bowl Sunday, football fans will have a choice: the Boss or the Big Balls. ABC plans to counterprogram NBC's game-day entertainment telecasts with a sports-star-studded episode of the summer obstacle-course hit "Wipeout."

The Disney-owned network will air a brief football-themed "Wipeout" special against NBC's official halftime show headlined by Bruce Springsteen. Then, during NBC's post-Bowl presentation of "The Office," ABC will air an hourlong "Wipeout" in which cheerleaders compete against male "couch potato" sports fans.

The strategy will mark the first time in five years a major broadcast network has gone after a rival's Super Bowl momentum with original entertainment programming.

"It's broadcast's biggest day, and this is a big mass-market show, and it's fun to be able to participate and be a part of it," said John Saade, senior vp alternative programming at ABC. "This will put 'Wipeout' back in the public's consciousness between runs, and we plan to have a lot of fun with it."

The two-part ABC special — dubbed "Wipeout Superball Sunday" — pulls out all the stops to cater to NFL fans: Hall of Famer Michael Irving will lend sideline commentary, the Navy's Blue Angels will perform a flyover, the USC marching band will storm the course, contestants will run a gantlet with quarterbacks pelting them with footballs, NFL luminaries will stop by the commentary booth, and the show's signature Big Balls obstacle has been converted into jumbo-sized footballs.

The special is one of the most ambitious Super Bowl Sunday programming plans ever mounted by a non-host network. Yet for the reality show's producer, Endemol, it's familiar territory.

In 2002, NBC enjoyed some of Fox's big game thunder by airing a special episode of the Endemol-produced "Fear Factor" featuring Playboy Playmates as contestants during halftime. "Fear Factor" siphoned off 11.4 million viewers. The family-friendly "Wipeout" could attract even more.

Great for ABC and for "Wipeout" but less so for struggling NBC, which is counting on an attentive Super Bowl audience to promote its midseason slate, including new drama "Kings" and the return of "Celebrity Apprentice." After the game, NBC will air a one-hour edition of "The Office." (partialdiff)
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