Survival of the (Racially?) Fittest: CBS Gets Big Buzz

The CBS plan to launch this season's "Survivor" pitting four teams against each other divided along racial lines -- blacks, whites, Latinos and Asians -- is enraging city officials in New York, who are demanding the show, scheduled to premiere Sept. 14, be scrapped.

The network has issued a statement saying, "CBS fully recognizes the controversial nature of this format but has full confidence in the producers and their ability to produce the program in a responsible manner."

Critics are unsure what "a responsible manner" would be, even as CBS defends its plan.

But if CBS was looking for a storm of free publicity in the press, they've got it.

"What's Next? Germans vs. Jews?" the New York Post asked in a headline today.

"Racism does bring out the worst in us and, unfortunately, in that ['Survivor' producer Mark] Burnett is not entirely wrong," the Post says.

Indignation in the press is not always echoed by people in the street, as ABC News' questioning of random passersby in front of New York's Lincoln Center showed this morning:

"I wouldn't mind or be offended by the whole race division. I'd be more interested to see what the competition is like," said Mike, a African American assets administrator in his late 20s. "I mean, unless it's stereotyping any group in a way that's offensive, I'm okay with it."

"I think it's a good idea," said Ashley, a white woman in her mid 20s who designs wardrobes for TV shows. "It gives people extra incentive to watch the show, now, out of sheer intrigue. I wouldn't have watched it before, since it seemed kind of dull, but this adds new flavor."

The show's host, Jeff Probst, is quoted by The Associated Press as saying CBS is well aware that the show may be offensive and that "it's very risky because you're bringing up a topic that is a hot button. … There's a history of segregation you can't ignore. It is part of our history."

But the network's claims that it is trying to be creative, to "try something new," were only met by derision from New York City Councilman John Liu.

"The idea of having a battle of the races is preposterous. How could anybody be so desperate for ratings?" Liu told the AP.

Something in the Zeitgeist, or Just a Bad Idea?

CBS is apparently acting on a temptation that has presented itself to other networks lately.

Various reports depict all the networks having to make decisions about similar use of racial tension to add interest -- or hoped-for ratings.

For example, Donald Trump has been convinced by NBC officials that he should not pursue plans to pit black and white teams against each other in "The Apprentice," according to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

ABC rejected the idea of a program that would have been called, "Welcome to the Neighborhood." That reality program was described as tagging along as conservative white families had to decide whether to live next to Korean, black or gay neighbors.

CBS, though, has shown no sign of pulling the increasingly controversial launch of its 13th season of "Survivor."

At the very least, the cynical old advertising adage, "There's no such thing as bad publicity," may be finding new confirmation.

The long-running "Survivor" suffered a drastic ratings plunge in its 12th season, losing nearly one in four of its previous viewers.

So it might not be surprising that Burnett, who in an earlier season pitted all-male vs. all-female teams, should try the group-division card again to chase ratings.

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