Picks and Pans Review: The Chair

updated 02/04/2002 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/04/2002 01:00AM

ABC (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET)

The Chamber

FOX (Fridays, 8 p.m. ET)

What a mess. ABC and FOX have sued each other over the issue of who ripped off whom in the creation of these somewhat similar game shows that premiered in mid-January. There's only one equitable way to resolve this: Take both off the air.

Okay, that's unfairly dismissive. There are notable differences between The Chair and The Chamber. On the ABC entry, emceed by tennis great John McEnroe, each player leans back in what looks like a dentist's chair and tries to ace a quiz while maintaining his or her heart rate below a certain level. It's essentially a test of self-control, made more difficult by occasional distractions—like leaping flames or a dangling alligator. The FOX show emphasizes endurance, with contestants entering a torture chamber—repeatedly described as "hellish" by host Rick Schwartz—and attempting to withstand extreme temperatures, high winds and bad vibrations. Oh, they also have to keep their blood pressure and pulse rate out of the "danger zone" and answer questions such as "Which restaurant serves its trademark Grand Slam Breakfast?"

McEnroe, mocking his reputation for on-court tantrums, is the more likable host. His eyes seem to say, "I can't believe I'm involved in this, but what the hell." On the other hand, The Chair looks rather tame compared with The Chamber, which is louder, sweatier and more sadistic. The last thing TV needs is Fear Factor elements grafted onto the quiz-show format. But if this is a trend, FOX may have the edge.

Bottom Line: Not for the weak—or the wise

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