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Can 'Friends' survive?

Reality TV champ challenges top sitcom Thursday nights

I've watched NBC's "Friends," the nation's most popular sitcom, ever since it hit the airwaves seven years ago.

I could tell you about Rachel's trendsetting hairstyles, chef Monica's neurotic behavior, Pheobe's quirky personality, and Joey's string of girlfriends and hilarious one-liners ("Hey, how you doin'?").

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But the TV landscape is about to change - again. A little show called "Survivor" is moving in on "Friends" territory. "Survivor: The Australian Outback" will air after the Super Bowl this Sunday and then run opposite "Friends" every Thursday at 8 p.m.

See how big a deal this is?

NBC has reason to worry. The first "Survivor" dominated ratings last summer, with more than 50 million viewers tuning in to CBS for the finale as Richard Hatch was crowned the winner.

To combat its new opponent, NBC will "supersize" "Friends" by expanding it 10 more minutes. A mini-size "Saturday Night Live" will fill out the rest of the hour.

With the huge popularity of "Friends," why did CBS force viewers to choose? "In laying out all the options, ultimately it came down to what could most benefit our schedule overall," Kelly Kahl, CBS's senior vice president of program planning and scheduling, told Variety magazine, a trade publication. "We needed a series to help bring some people to our network on that night."

Read: We've got a winner here! We can beat "Friends" in the ratings.

"Survivor 2" no doubt will dominate. The show is fresh, smart, and gripping. I was hooked on the original "Survivor" and watched it faithfully every Wednesday. I always managed to work "Fire represents life" into my daily conversations.

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"Survivor" is not as trashy or mindless as Fox's "Temptation Island." It's viewer friendly and provides the ultimate water-cooler talk. Sixteen strangers picked to live on an island, eating rats and maggots, someone voted off the island each week.... What's not to like?

Meanwhile, "Friends" is looking a little ragged around the edges. The plots have been recycled, and the group is getting too old for its silly antics. For a while, it was comforting to watch the same crew each week, checking out new relationships, the hilarious tension between the friends, and yes, to see Rachel's new hairstyles.

But now I look forward to the spontaneity of "Survivor 2" and the relationships between real people. The "challenges" and alliances formed in the new Kucha and Ogakor Tribes should be riveting.

Will viewers vote "Friends" off the air? Only time will tell. But one thing's for sure: "Survivor 2" will force the other networks to work even harder to win viewers.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society