July 16, 2004 -- FOX shot back yesterday at TV rivals who've ac cused the network of unethically ripping off their reality shows.
In her first public comments about the red-hot feud, Fox entertainment president Gail Berman said her network has nothing to hide.
"The baseless allegations of theft and extortion are outrageous and unacceptable," Berman said. "I will not participate in perpetuating this myth."
The chiefs of NBC and ABC had slammed Fox this week for allegedly stealing the concepts of "The Contender" (NBC) and "Wife Swap" (ABC).
Fox is beating NBC and ABC to the punch with similarly themed reality shows "The Next Great Champ" and "Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy," both of which will debut before their counterparts.
Berman said that Fox, and TV networks in general, might be guilty of uncreative repetition — but not thievery.
"There are two boxing shows — there are three Amy Fisher movies. There are two Diana movies," Berman said. "This is the way television works. There is nothing new about it."
Fox also announced yesterday that contestants can now be as old as 28 to enter the wildly popular talent show "American Idol." The previous age cap was 26.
"It allows us to pull in a wider talent pool," said Keith Hindle, New York-based vice president of marketing for "Idol" producers Fremantle Media North America.
Network suits and producers, however, did not move up the minimum age requirement of 16. Show judges — most notably Simon "Mr. Nasty" Cowell — had begged Fox and producers to make contestants be at least 18.
Four "Idol" finalists were 16 or 17 years old this past season, and some appeared to wilt under the staggering pressure of balancing high school homework with competitive singing.
The runner-up, however, turned out to be 16-year-old Georgia Peach Diana DeGarmo.
Auditions for "Idol's" fourth season are set to begin Aug. 4.
Fox is a division of News Corp., which also owns The Post.