PASADENA, Calif. - Drool. Pant-pant. "Dog Eat Dog's" emergence as summer's near-p-r-r-r-fect escapist hit just might have a little to do with host Brooke Burns' knockout punch.
OK, a lot.
Currently featured in the near-altogether in Stuff magazine, the 24-year-old Dallas native and former "Baywatch" co-star modestly states the obvious during a recent breakfast interview.
"That young male demographic is something that's never an easy thing to get," she says. "And since the beginning of time, young guys have liked to look at young, pretty girls. Genius!"
NBC entertainment president Jeff Zucker, the genius behind the move to put babes in charge of both "Dog Eat Dog" and "Spy TV" (Ali Landry), has a tougher time explaining himself. His verbatim answer goes like this: "Um, uh, you know, look, um, Brooke and Ali obviously are, um, um, are, are good-looking young women and, um, and I do think are, um, are assets to the programs, especially to the audience that has gravitated toward them, particularly young men."
Even big-time network executives are entitled to towel off when Brooke Burns is under discussion. More stunning in person than on-screen, she's um, uh, happy to be hosting NBC's hottest new commodity. All 13 episodes were taped in a month's time, and the show recently was picked up as a midseason replacement.
"Sometimes you get something that you think is going to be a piece of trash and it turns out fantastic," she says. "So you have a good time, you enjoy yourself and you brace yourself for the future no matter what it is."
Monday's edition of "Dog Eat Dog" will put Burns in the company of six Playboy Playmate contestants vying for the game's $25,000 cash prize.
The game is a blend of derring-do and borderline brain power. But there are no gross-out activities, and Burns encourages contestants instead of belittling them. Her outfits are a combination of boots, tight pants and form-fitting crop tops. In short, she's not Alex Trebek.
"If nothing else, it's great exposure and I get to have a really good time," she says.
Her route to "Dog Eat Dog" and single motherhood began in North Dallas. She attended Trinity Christian Academy until the seventh grade, when her parents, Brad and Betsy Burns, opted for home-schooling so she could spend more time training with the Dallas Metropolitan Ballet. She began dancing at age 2-.5, "large gut, chubby thighs and all. Not to mention chubby cheeks."
A skiing accident at age 15 required reconstructive knee surgery and ended her dancing career. She soon began modeling, traveling throughout Europe and moving to New York on her own at age 17.
"I found out you could make $125 an hour just smiling in front of a camera," she said. "Fantastic!"
She also began doing commercials, and soon got an offer to co-star in the shortlived 1996 series "Out of the Blue." In 1998 she was cast as Jessica "Jessie" Owens on "Baywatch."
"People give that show such a hard time," she says. "Either you love it or you hate it. But it was a great platform to jump off of as far as visibility internationally."
An appearance on a celebrity edition of "Fear Factor," where she was eliminated in the first round, led to the hosting stint on "Dog Eat Dog." She also has guested as a "fantasy girl" on Ally McBeal and made her feature film debut in last year's "Shallow Hal."
Off-screen, Burns had a brief marriage to Australian actor Julian McMahon, who is the father of her daughter, Madison, now 2.
"I'm a protective mama bear," she says.
Her pictorial in August's Stuff, accompanied by a sometimes explicit interview, is a "live-and-learn" mistake, Burns says. She especially regrets upsetting her parents. Dad is a church elder and "my mommy is a mommy who used to work at a bank."
"I think at first they thought maybe I was a little nuts when I went off on my own," she says. "But we've built a relationship that has trust and love, and they've really been supportive all the way through. That's important because I come from a tight family and it matters to me what they think."
Burns plans to be back in Dallas later this summer to visit her parents. In the meantime, she has this message for her father, whom she hopes won't sweat the small Stuff .
"Daddy, I'm a 24-year-old adult trying to be the best single mom that I can possibly be," she says. "Sometimes we all make bad choices. But you know I'm smart because you taught me well. I learn from my mistakes and hopefully we can move on."