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Nothing to Fear …

Airwaves

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It looks like you don't have to be a kid to be a jackass anymore.

"Jackass" is the MTV program that's all the rage among the pubescent set — and attorneys, too, but for different reasons. The kids like it because they get to watch perfectly normal (sub-) humans do things like don flame-retardant suits and set themselves ablaze so their cohorts can roast weenies over them as they burn. (Attorneys like the program because they get to file suits blaming MTV when kids — surprise! — emulate what they see on the program.)

Now comes NBC-TV's "Fear Factor" (Mondays, 8 p.m.) debuting June 11.

NBC is banking on the presumption (or maybe it's a fact) that enough of the adult audience is still so trapped in pubescence as to want to watch people jump from one speeding semi to another or perform similar inane feats. (Attorneys may have a harder time winning cases after adult emulations, however, since juries will likely presume that adults have more sense than teens.)

Here's how "Fear Factor" will work. Each week, three women and three men will be asked to face their worst fears. With supervision by "professional Hollywood stunt coordinators" (a cautious lot — not!), they'll be faced with a series of stunts ranging from having to lie still while covered in live snakes, to walking across a 6 1/2-inch-wide beam suspended more than 100 feet in the air. If they complete their task they continue in the game. If they chicken out, they're history. The contestant who wins the final challenge each week takes home $50,000.

There's no doubt that "Fear Factor" will strike a resonant chord in a lot of viewers. But the real draw for me will be seeing which jackasses think participating is worth a measly 50

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