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‘Iron Chef’ ingredients aren’t so secret

‘Iron Chef’ has not-so-secret ingredient. Plus: Will Paula Abdul return to ‘American Idol’? Where are the camera operators on "Big Brother"? What happened to "Real Nightmares"?
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Plenty of questions this week, on shows ranging from "Iron Chef" to "American Idol" to shows that may never hit the air.

Q: Regarding "Iron Chef" the series, how is it possible that the chefs can think of 5 dishes to make using the secret ingredient in less than a few minutes?    —Colin, Ontario

A: Although "Iron Chef" makes it seem as though the secret ingredient that must be used is pulled completely out of nowhere, the chefs do have a little bit of advance knowledge.

A Food Network spokesperson tells us that the chefs are given a list of five ingredients in advance, knowing only that the secret ingredient will be taken from that list. We're told that this was the practice on the original "Iron Chef" as well as "Iron Chef America."

That doesn't mean it's a cakewalk, though. Chefs have to plan multiple recipes for each ingredient. Sometimes, especially on the original show, the ingredient is some form of live fish, which must be killed on-air. Yet the chefs have to produce a variety of dishes as well as often desserts. I think watching a chef feed trout into an ice-cream machine marked the time I decided to take a break from watching "Iron Chef," at least for a while.    —G.F.C.

Q: Please tell me that Paula Abdul won't be back for another season of “American Idol,’ like the rumors are suggesting. I don't know if I will be able to stand watching her another time! It's time for somone else to take her place — I'm keeping my fingers crossed!    —Sarah, Utah

A: Bad news for you, Sarah. Paula Abdul is going nowhere. All three "American Idol" judges will return for the new season in January 2006. It was a rocky season for Abdul, for sure. When former contestant Corey Clark started claiming that she gave him assistance on the show, as well as started a romantic relationship with him, fans were split. Some thought Clark was lying, others believed him completely, while many questioned Clark's full story, but suspected that Abdul wasn't exactly innocent in the entire matter.

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But ABC's "Primetime Live" special on the scandal, aired the night before the "Idol" finale in May, was light on actual evidence (Clark produced a prescription bottle and some phone bills) and heavy on the tabloid factor. Abdul and the other "Idol" judges even spoofed the special during the finale itself.

Later, FOX hired independent counsel to investigate the matter, and that they had found no proof of either an affair or that Abdul helped Clark advance on the show, and that she had been cleared. The show did announce that it's added an "enhanced non-fraternization policy" to try and avoid such cases in the future.    —G.F.C.

Q: Are there actual cameramen in the "Big Brother" house or are all of the shots done with positioned cameras that are being worked from a production room?    —Laura, Atlanta

A: In this year’s brand-new “Big Brother” house, there are 47 cameras recording every move made by the hamsters — I mean, houseguests — and 76 microphones capturing their every burp and backstab. That’s a record number.

Some cameras in the house are operated by remote control or are stationary. But others are just like those you’d see in a television studio. The mirrors we see inside the house are actually two-way mirrors, and behind them are television cameras operated by people. They’re in corridors not accessible by the cast members.

In the old house, which was demolished, the five cameras behind the windows were inside what was referred to as the “camera cross.” To see what that looked like during construction before the first season began, and to see pictures of master control and other behind-the-scenes images, check out .   —A.D.

Q: What happens to the reality shows that get cancelled before they ever get on the air? I was on “Real Nightmares” and CBS is not going to air it. I never saw my episode, either, and since it was such a life-changing experience, I would at least like a sneak peek at it. Know what they plan to do with it?    —Annette, Texas

A: It’s not often that shows are produced and then disappear without airing a single episode, but it does happen. More frequently, a new show will air an episode or two and then get pulled because of its low ratings. Recently, that’s happened to NBC’s CBS’ “The Cut” bounced around to four different time slots before settling on Friday nights.

With the addition of the new FOX Reality Channel to some cable systems, some shows now have a place to go if their parent network kicks them off the air. This is actually a strategy for the new network, and its general manager David Lyle told Media Life that “we’re gathering other [shows] that didn’t complete their runs. We may band them together, [saying] ‘At last you can see the final episode.’”

FRC recently picked up FOX’s staged “reality” show “The Princes of Malibu,” and will soon air both ABC’s “The Will” (which was pulled earlier this year after just one episode aired) and FOX’s “Who’s Your Daddy.”

As to CBS’ “Nightmare on Elm Street: Real Nightmares,” which would have recreated frightening dreams for its cast members, it never aired a single episode, even though the series was shot and produced. Host Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund told PhillyBurbs earlier this year that the series just didn’t fit on CBS’ packed schedule, and said it’s likely “gone forever.” However, he said there’s a tiny chance it could end up on CBS’ sibling network UPN, so cross your fingers or write to CBS.    —A.D.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is's Television Editor. is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.