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NBCi taps contestants online for space survival

The TV producer of "Survivor" and NBC are creating a new show, "Destination Mir," and will send its winner on a rocket ride to Russia's Mir space station.

Call it "Survivor in Space."

Mark Burnett, the TV producer who pitted 16 island castaways against each other to create the CBS summer hit "Survivor," is teaming with NBC to create a new show dubbed "Destination Mir." This time, contestants will be selected to undergo cosmonaut training, with the winner taking a rocket ride to Russia's Mir space station.

Taking a page from its precursor, "Destination Mir's" Russian cosmonaut trainers will kick out a cast member each week until one remains.

General Electric-owned NBC began recruiting contestants today on its NBCi Web site.

U.S. TV networks have pounced on reality television as a relatively cheap way to counter growing competition for viewers from cable rivals and the Internet, although the genre's staying power has yet to be proven. "Survivor" scored record viewer numbers, but CBS's copycat show, "Big Brother," which features 10 housemates who are voted out of the house one at a time, has not enjoyed the same success.

"'Big Brother' suffers...It had lived in the shadows of 'Survivor,'" said Allen Weiner, an analyst for NetRatings, a Web site ranking service.

He added that the popularity of "Survivor" was based on the individuals themselves.

"It's the personalities that made Survivor successful," Weiner said. "It's all going to be based on people on the show and their personalities."

NBC hopes to make "Destination Mir" an out-of-the-world experience not only on television but also on the Web through its redesigned Web site, NBCi.com. The offering is part of an attempt to pump life back into its struggling online efforts. Last month, NBCi cut 20 percent of its work force, or 170 employees.

Several TV shows have used Web tie-ins, including an episode of "The Drew Carey Show" last fall, and ABC's smash game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?," which lets viewers play along at home. Analysts said "Survivor" was among the first of its kind to effectively use the Web as a means of support instead of using it as a substitute, such as Webcasting.

"The Web is a perfect companion" to television, said NetRatings' Weiner. "The Web cannot make something out of nothing. The Web takes a kernel of an idea and can expand on the idea enormously and rapidly."

"Destination Mir" will What will they think of next? See CNET Tech Trends be produced in coordination with MirCorp, a Holland-based company that formed earlier this year to operate as a direct link between commercial users of Mir and the Space Station's Russian operators.

"I think it's an absolutely great example of how two mediums make sense of each other and the kind of things that they can do to enhance TV programming," said Andrew Shotland, vice president of NBCi Entertainment.

Shotland said that although the Web site for "Destination Mir" is "classified" information, NBCi's "Destination Mir" site will have an interactive component that includes chats and links about the Mir space station.

"We hope to be one up (from 'Survivor')...or maybe two up," Shotland said.