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NBC reaches for sky with out-of-this-world reality series for 2001

NBC is hoping for a ratings liftoff from Survivor mastermind Mark Burnett.

The network has agreed to pay nearly $40-million for the rights to Burnett's Destination Mir, a reality series that would launch an everyday American into space for a rendezvous with the Russian space station Mir, according to Tuesday's Daily Variety.

The series would follow a group of would-be cosmonauts from space camp to launch pad over 13 to 15 episodes, culminating with a dramatic live broadcast in which a winner is picked and sent into space.

The price tag includes the nearly $20-million Burnett will pay to MirCorp, a Russian company that has leased the use of the space station from RSC Energia, the private firm that now controls what was once the Soviet space program.

NBC hasn't scheduled the series yet, Daily Variety said, although it quoted the network's entertainment president Garth Ancier as aiming for a fall 2001 premiere, with the actual launch taking place by early 2002.

The series would follow the contestants through space boot camp, with one participant eliminated every week by Russian space officials. The live, two-hour conclusion would gather several finalists on a launch pad, where the winner would be announced and then climb aboard a space capsule for the 10-day round trip.

Burnett, who cooked up the series, gave CBS sky-high ratings this summer with his 13-episode Survivor, in which 16 volunteer castaways were marooned on a tropical isle, where they competed on camera for a $1-million prize.

_ Times wires