In what can only be taken a positive sign for fans of CBS' critically acclaimed but lacklusterly-rated The Amazing Race series, despite having just announced a premiere date for The Amazing Race 5 last week, the network has already begun accepting applications for a sixth edition of the series.

The early initiation of the casting call, which apparently began several weeks ago but went largely unannounced by the network and has a quickly approaching deadline of April 13, comes as quite a surprise considering the network's previous comments on future Amazing Race editions.

After airing both spring and fall editions during the 2001-02 television season, CBS broadcast The Amazing Race 3 in fall 2002, but then opted to indefinitely shelf the already-filmed fourth installment of the anemically rated series in favor of an American Idol-inspired revival of the Star Search talent competition series. Finally, with little advance promotion, CBS premiered The Amazing Race 4 on May 29, an action that seemingly reduced the series that CBS President Les Moonves himself had termed one of the twin (along with Survivor) "gold standards of reality shows" to just another bit of simple, nondescript summer programming filler.

Once TAR4 premiered and continued its typical middling ratings performance, the series' future was cast into even more doubt when Moonves himself began publicly expressing doubt as to whether a fifth edition of the series would be produced.

The network's foot-dragging continued well past The Amazing Race 4's August 21, 2003 finale, with CBS not even allowing Race uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer to begin accepting The Amazing Race 5 applications until mid-September, and then only finally greenlighting the fifth edition of the series two weeks later once the series won the 2003 Emmy Award for best reality show.

Given the TAR5's struggles, one can see how TAR6's early casting call, while not a commitment to the production of the a sixth edition, comes as a delightful shock to TAR fans. Additionally, given The Amazing Race 6's tight casting deadline and the application's mention of an August 2004 filming date, the announcement might even indicate that CBS is considering giving the program another chance at a fall or spring airing during the "real" television season.

Then again, considering that the CBS press release which recently announced the upcoming premieres of The Amazing Race 5 and Big Brother 5 referred to the event as the return of its "two popular summer reality series," perhaps not.

In the meantime, at least wannabe Race contestants have another opportunity to get those applications in. To visit the application page, click here.