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This show gives CBS ratings to bark about

Mark Washburn

Summer is a time when the networks try out oddball shows, and some of them tend to hit – “American Idol,” for example.

This year, it's “Greatest American Dog” on CBS (8 p.m. Thursdays, Channel 3). Following in the tradition of next design star, next top model and next big chef, it offers a pack of pooches and their owners and a $250,000 prize for the one deemed most worthy.

So far, it has snuffled up great ratings, and why not?

People are drawn to shows about critters – “Animal Planet” has made a whole channel out of the attraction. In the fall, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show draws good ratings and “Dog Whisperer” is a popular staple of the National Geographic Channel.

Lassie and Rin Tin Tin are perhaps the best-remembered dog stars of their time, but other creatures have hit big as well, including a dolphin named Flipper and a talking horse named Mr. Ed.

“Greatest American Dog” borrows a few contemporary reality-show techniques. There's a panel of three judges (one with a British accent, of course) and the dog-master teams live in a “Big Brother”-type house where we can follow their offstage dramas.

This week, one of the precious pooches, Star, got nipped on the ear while outside. Its owner rushed it off to the vet, reporting it had been bitten by a snake. Maybe not a snake, the medics reported. Maybe a cat. Or maybe it just ran into a wire.

Star was cooperatively slobbery throughout the crisis, apparently enjoying the excitement. To recuperate later, Star got the bed. Master took the floor.

Hoo-boy. Anyway, it provided good TV, demonstrating that dogs are sane and humans are nuts.

Fluffing up the dogs before their obedience challenges takes place in a “groom room” that looks like the makeup chamber of a Hollywood set. One master dressed her dog in a little dress this week, drawing stern criticism from the judges (“A dog is not a Barbie doll”). Didn't want her to get sunburned, master pleaded.

Everything seems a matter of life or death on “Greatest American Dog.” Owners fret over how their furry companions will react when faced with the show's challenges – like sitting at a dinner table facing a plate of steak and not being allow to dig in. Masters melt down, but the canines take it all in stride.

Kicked off this week (“Expelled from the K9 Academy,” in the pompous vernacular of the show) was a woman who yelped at her dog whenever she perceived it was entertaining an errant thought. She yelped constantly. Apparently she was tuned in to the dog's every brain synapse. It was unclear whether the dog found it distressing or amusing, but out they went. A stressed dog is not a happy dog, the judges ruled.

Even though it's over the top, “Greatest American Dog” is good pageant. And for CBS, these dog days of summer are rewarding indeed.

‘Loser' and ‘Bachelor' tryouts

NBC is holding auditions in Charlotte for people interested in getting on the weight-loss program “Biggest Loser” 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today at Fitness Together, 1318 Central Ave, Suite E-2.

ABC will hold auditions for women who are interested in getting on “The Bachelor” 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the “Alive After Five” gathering at Wachovia Plaza, 301 S. Tryon St. Those interested should complete an application from www.thebachelor.tv, and bring an ID and recent photos.

Media Movers

Chad Bower moves to morning news on WLNK-FM (“The Link” 107.9) and a larger talent role on “Bob & Sheri.” Mike Doyle, who had been doing that shift, becomes permanent anchor middays on sister station WBT-AM (1110) … On “Fox News Rising (WCCB, Channel 18),” Dao Vu joins the show as newscaster. She most recently was with the Weather Channel, based in Atlanta …

Former WBTV (Channel 3) reporter Rita Cosby joins “Inside Edition” as a special correspondent in its New York office … Eliminated this week on ABC's “I Survived a Japanese Game Show” was Mary Greenawalt of Matthews …

Roger Sarow, general manager of WFAE-FM (90.7), has been elected to the board of directors for National Public Radio … Charlotte kayaker Brett Heyl will be featured on the series “A Shot at Glory,” about top athletes and their quests to become Olympians, airing at 9 p.m. Aug. 5 on the cable network MOJO HD …

Bob Lacey and Sheri Lynch of “Bob & Sheri” on WLNK-FM are among nominees for national Marconi awards for syndicated personalities of the year. Winners will be announced Sept. 18. Other finalists include WBT-AM in the legendary station category, WLNK-FM for large market station of the year, WMIT-FM in Black Mountain and WFMV-FM in Columbia as religious station of the year ... “Gimme the Mike Charlotte,” the summer “American Idol”-like singing contest on WSOC (Channel 9) hosted by Craig Reynolds, got off to a strong start Wednesday, beating network programming on all rival stations.

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007; mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

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