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On the Air

The latest news from the TV beat

‘Factor’ Facts, Part 1

As fun as it is to watch folks get dragged by horses or swim in a tank of alligators, even Fear Factor producers admit that what pulls in an average 12.2 million viewers each Monday is the show’s staple gross-out stunt, like the recent cow-brain-eating contest. ”It’s viewers’ favorite part of the show, and it’s the cheapest part, too,” says executive producer Matt Kunitz. ”It doesn’t cost very much to eat a worm.” But it takes a lot of research, which is why former Oddville, MTV host Rich Brown works full time to find the world’s ickiest eats, such as the Madagascar hissing cockroaches (note: It’s best to chew, not gulp down, the two-inch-long insects). But even Brown has his limits – he won’t force contestants to consume human placentas. There are several other disgusting stunts he’s partial to staging, though, like asking players to put a gut-pumping tube up their noses after downing a concoction of Pepto-Bismol, Mountain Dew, ketchup, and milk (to which Kunitz has given a thumbs-down…for now). Sure, such stunts may turn a few stomachs, but Brown is convinced they have appeal. ”Americans are not really experimental when it comes to food, so a lot of this is new and scary to them,” says Brown. ”It’s sort of like we’re horrified yet fascinated at the same time.” Not to mention nauseated.

‘Factor’ Facts, Part 2

Pssst, just between us: Not everyone’s bullish about CNN catch Connie Chung’s chances against Fox News Channel’s conservative curmudgeon Bill O’Reilly. It’s Chung’s job to fill Greta Van Susteren’s old slot opposite The O’Reilly Factor, the most-watched news show on cable TV. ”If you want to counter the appeal of a right-wing talk-show host who’s particularly political, it certainly isn’t a good move,” says Jay Rosen, NYU’s journalism department chair. But CNN’s not as interested in providing an alternative to O’Reilly’s partisan shtick as it is in ”expanding news viewership in general – we want to attract viewers from all parts of TV, including [those who usually watch] Friends,” says Sid Bedingfield, CNN/US’ general manager. Either way, Chung’s show – a mix of in-studio interviews and news reports – doesn’t exactly have O’Reilly and Co. shaking in their tasseled loafers. While a Fox News rep would only say, ”We respect her as a journalist and wish her well,” O’Reilly (who declined to comment) seemed more skeptical on a recent Factor, when he craftily interviewed a TV critic as a way to address Chung’s hiring. ”The traditional news presentation on cable doesn’t work,” he said. ”You’ve got to give people more. You’ve got to give them something of yourself.” Of course, if Connie really wants to shake things up, she could import guests from hubby Maury Povich’s show.

AND SO ON… Ben Stiller will guest-star in an upcoming episode of Judd Apatow’s college comedy Undeclared. He’ll play the trashy, mullet-sporting ex-stepfather of coed Lizzie’s crazy ex-boyfriend.