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What was it P.T. Barnum used to say?

It's hard to know which is more amazing: that two TV networks would simultaneously decide that what viewers really want is a celebrity circus show, or that one of them would back down. Both NBC and ABC had glommed onto the idea after Celebrity Circus, in which B-list Latin stars trained with a real circus, scored big ratings in Argentina and Portugal. NBC bought the rights to a U.S. version, while ABC acquired a planned remake of Circus of the Stars, a hit as an annual special on CBS during the 1980s. Both shows seemed headed to the air this fall.

Ordinarily when two networks come up with the same idea, they fight to death over it -- and the stupider the show, the fiercer the combat. For example, in 2002, when ABC and Fox were both developing game shows in which contestants answered questions while being literally tortured, they filed lawsuits against one another and ran tapings into the wee hours of the morning in a desperate race to get on the air first. Result: ABC's The Chair ran nine episodes, Fox's The Chamber three. (It's possibly no coincidence that the torture-chamber concept had also been a hit overseas, on the BBC.)

This time around, though, one of the networks blinked: ABC has just pulled the plug on Circus of the Stars. Supposedly there just weren't enough big stars to go around for two circus shows. Sadly, I guess that means there will be no bidding war for Erik Estrada, Pia Zadora and Jan-Michael Vincent.


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