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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

College basketball can be addictive for fans. According to Dr. Drew Pinsky, addiction of all sorts is the problem of our time. He's built a TV empire around shows such as VH1's "Celebrity Rehab" and "Sober House." He's starting a new series tonight on CNN Headline News. Also tonight, A&E debuts "Relapse," a spin off from one of its popular addiction series.

TV critic Eric Deggans thinks the addicts on screen aren't the only ones out there.

Mr. ERIC DEGGANS (TV and Media Critic, St. Petersburg Times): My name is Eric, and I'm addicted to the show "Intervention."

(Soundbite of TV show, "Intervention")

Unidentified Man #1: I'm an addict by definition.

Unidentified Man #2: I'm consumed. I'm consumed by a drug.

Unidentified Man #1: I meet the criteria.

DEGGANS: I know how he feels. I've been watching A&E's series on addicts pushed into treatment for several seasons, and I'm still drawn in by its tales of collapse and redemption.

Unidentified Man #3: If I had $20 to my name, my last $20, and I had an option to buy dope or have a meal, I had to get the dope.

DEGGANS: No wonder "Intervention" has spawned a cottage industry of addiction-related TV shows. There's A&E's "Hoarders." TLC's "Hoarding: Buried Alive" and "My Strange Addiction." And tonight's new entry, called "Relapse."

(Soundbite of TV show, "Relapse")

Unidentified Man #4: Sober coaching, the bottom-line is to help a client learn to live drug free. The sober coach is supposed to help you find ways to live without a sober coach. I mean, my job is to put myself out of business one client at a time.

DEGGANS: I fear these series feed our appetite for watching others fail. We may learn a little about the devilish details of a hoarding disorder, but we're also drawn in by the drama of a breakdown.

Watch the "Relapse" episode with firefighter and alcoholic David punching fist-sized craters in the walls of his house.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Relapse")

DAVID: I'm not me when I'm drinking.

(Soundbite of a thud)

DAVID: That is not Dave. That is rum.

(Soundbite of thuds)

DAVE: That is beer.

(Soundbite of a thud)

DAVID: That is wine.

DEGGANS: Full of sorrow and fear, he batters the brick and plaster of his modest home, and the holes are evidence of his bottomless frustration.

(Soundbite of a bang)

DAVID: It's like an exorcism. You have to wait until that is out of my system to see me again.

DEGGANS: When you watch a display like that, it's easy to feel a little superior. Bad as your life is, at least you're not him.

And if there's a living example of this tension between entertainment and exploitation, it's celebrity addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky. Through shows like "Celebrity Rehab" and "Sober House," Pinsky's added another layer to the addiction TV formula: fame.

Dr. DREW PINSKY (Physician; Television Host and Producer): By the way, we are speculating. I don't know Britney. She has chronic psychiatric disorders that are...

DEGGANS: Tonight, he brings those ideas to the channel once known as CNN Headline News.

Unidentified Man #5: We are just thrilled to welcome Dr. Drew into the HLN family. Make sure you catch Dr. Drew...

DEGGANS: He'll cover lots of topics, but Pinsky won't shy away from talk about Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan. His message: Tune in for the drama, but stay to learn something.

Still, for this addiction TV addict, the glare of Dr. Drew's celebrity spectacles obscures any larger lessons. At least when I'm focused on the regular folks in A&E's addiction series, there's a hope that what I'm learning outweighs the exploitation.

MONTAGNE: Eric Deggans is TV and media critic for the St Petersburg Times.

And this is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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