In a development tinged with both competitive anger and bittersweet irony, Variety reports that reality TV superproducer Mark Burnett Productions ("MBP"), headed by Mark Burnett and Conrad Riggs, is planning a new music-based reality competition show. The show's goal: to find a new lead singer for INXS, the Australian band that was one of the most popular bands in the world during the 1980s and 1990s prior to the untimely death of lead singer Michael Hutchence.

In addition, MBP announced that David Goffin, who started in reality TV with Burnett on his Eco-Challenge and Combat Missions shows but has spent the last three years as supervising producer of Fox's American Idol, has rejoined MBP and will executive-produce the INXS show.

Goffin's hiring led Variety to speculate that this show is intended as the next step in an escalating war between Mark Burnett and the Fox network, which may have started when Fox blatantly stole Burnett's concept for his reality-competition boxing show The Contender after losing a bidding war with NBC to air the series. Subsequently, Burnett recommitted to making The Contender better than Fox's clone, The Next Great Champ ... and NBC scheduled The Contender for broadcast in the same Tuesdays night time slot as American Idol.

However, we tend not to attribute such vendettas to Burnett, who is canny enough to know that he only has a few places to sell his shows. Instead, we think the Goffin re-hiring shows that Burnett has finally forgiven Goffin for his first post-Burnett production, American Fighter Pilot, a reality show intended as a real-life version of Top Gun that was a mega-flop in 2002 -- but that some careless writers have listed as a Burnett project. (We apologize for the gaffe.)

In fact, the scheduling of The Contender marks the fourth time that a Burnett reality show will take on the #1 show on TV. (Survivor, on CBS, originally crushed ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? before gaining a draw against NBC's Friends, while The Apprentice, on NBC, managed to knock CBS's CSI out of the top slot while placing in the top 5 itself.) It's also worth noting that NBC originally planned to air The Apprentice against Idol -- before Idol crushed its third episode, after which The Apprentice quickly moved back to Thursdays -- and that all took place long before the dispute over The Contender.

Although the INXS show will focus on evaluating music performances, as Idol does, the fact that INXS is a rock band will favor a different type of performer than the Broadway-infuenced or soul-influenced pop singers who have prevailed on American Idol. Also, it seems very unlikely that INXS would like its next lead singer chosen by public vote, so we expect to see the band tell one candidate each week that he (or she) is fired -- at least, if they can still use that phrase.

The series plans to conclude with a live televised INXS concert featuring the new lead singer, followed immediately by a world tour. To build up worldwide excitement, one of the concepts being explored for the show is holding worldwide auditions. We doubt if the auditions will produce another William Hung, though -- which is fine with us, since even one William Hung seems like too many.

However, Burnett's involvement with INXS completes a circle of real-life irony that only a reality TV producer could believe. The original concept that became Survivor was developed by Charlie Parsons and former Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof at their U.K. TV production company Planet 24.

When Parsons and Geldof sold Planet 24 in 1999, they retained the rights to Survive!, which was being produced in Sweden under the name Expedition: Robinson, in a company called Castaway Productions -- apparently so they could press their lawsuit against Endemol's Big Brother. However, the next year, Castaway Productions licensed the Survive! concept to Mark Burnett for a U.S. version, a move that ended up launching the reality TV craze in the U.S. while making Burnett, Geldof and Parsons richer than Croesus.

But before Survivor hit big, Planet 24 was best known for producing the TV show The Big Breakfast, which starred Geldof's wife, the famous one-time "groupie" Paula Yates. Yates and Geldof had three daughters together (named Fifi Trixabelle, Peaches Honeyblossom and Pixie), although rumors of Paula's continuing infidelities swirled around their marriage. Then, in 1995, Paula entered into a hypersexed affair with ... INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence, and the frenzied relationship and her ensuing pregnancy broke up her marriage to Geldof. When their daughter was born in 1996, Paula and Michael named her "Heavenly Hirrani Tiger Lily Hutchence" (conclusively proving which member of the former Geldof family had been primarily responsible for child-naming).

A bitter child-custody battle ensued between Paula, who had taken the three Geldof children when she split, and Bob Geldof, who had been a stay-at-home father with primary child-rearing responsibility but suddenly found himself limited to occasional visits with them. However, Paula's two arrests for drug possession in 1996 resulted in Paula losing temporary custody to Bob, and Paula was refusing to go to Australia with Michael (who was preparing for an INXS world tour) without being able to take all four of her children, leading to several nasty exchanges between Bob and Michael ... which ended abruptly when Michael hung himself in November 1997.

Whether Michael's death was accidental during an act of "autoeroticism" (as Paula insisted) or a deliberate suicide (as the coroner ruled) has been hotly debated for years, although the evidence clearly seems to favor the "deliberate suicide" position. What cannot be argued is that Paula slid downhill after Michael's death, ending with her death by heroin overdose in September 2000.

So what happened to Paula and Michael's daughter Tiger Lily? In her will, Paula specified that she wanted permanent custody to go to ... the newly-minted Sir Bob Geldof, so that Tiger Lily could live with her three half-sisters. Geldof then won a custody battle against Michael's half-sister for the right to keep Lily permanently. (Good thing, too, because her father's estate, claimed to be worth up to $25 million at the time of his death, turned out to be worth only $50,000 to her after all of his debts were paid ... and her mother's estate was worth even less, only around $15,000, after all of her debts were paid. Talk about living for yourself and not caring about your child's future. But Lily will never have to worry about cash with the Geldofs.)

And now, the business partner of the man Michael Hutchence cuckolded -- who is also the adoptive father of Michael Hutchence's daughter -- is making a reality TV show about finding a replacement for Michael Hutchence. Somewhere in the background, we seem to hear the music from The Twilight Zone....


P.S. Although we don't pretend to be psychiatrists, it seems obvious from these facts (suicide, substance abuse, rapid spending despite extreme wealth, multiple sexual affairs, etc.) that both Paula Yates and Michael Hutchence suffered from some form of mood disorder. We find ourselves curious about the lack of discussion regarding this topic in the stories about the two of them. We don't know whether the media chose to "leave ... Paula with her dignity," as the BBC reported that Sir Bob requested, or whether the reporters simply didn't understand that mood disorder is quite compatible with creativity.