CBS isn't doing so badly, especially now that "CSI" is becoming a franchise, too. Between them, NBC and CBS had about $750 million in profits last year, but they're not resting on their bankbooks. This year, for the first time in TV history, cable reached audience parity with the major broadcast networks, moving up to the 50 percent mark. That's got the Big Three worried.
Or maybe I should say the Big Two and a Half. ABC can't seem to buy, create or even imagine a hit since Regis Philbin got the pink slip when "Millionaire" folded. You know a network is in trouble when it starts to air reruns of a cable show, as ABC is doing with USA's "Monk."
So it's no surprise that the weirdest new show on television this season is "Push, Nevada" on ABC. Just think about that for a minute: In what is perhaps the strangest business on the planet, how weird do you have to be to reach the far end of the weird-weirder-weirdest spectrum?
Push, Nev., is not a real place, by the way. And thank heavens for that. No more so than Twin Peaks was, although there are those who would swear that both towns exist in a parallel universe. (There are also those who claim that ABC exists only in a parallel universe, but that's a whole nuther ball of wax.)
Tony Perkins, the weatherman on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America," might wish he were living in a parallel universe. He was surprised to learn that Push, Nev., is not a real town. He got rooked into interviewing the Push, Nev., soccer team live one morning a few weeks before the series debuted. The phony team showed up in uniform outside the ABC studios and Perkins fell for it. Come to find out, the make-believe team had been hired by a guerilla marketing company that had been given the assignment of promoting the series for ABC. It's really ... um ... weird that ABC would sucker itself like that, isn't it? But, then, like I said, this is the season of weird.
There are lots of reasons to draw comparisons between "Push" and "Twin Peaks." The former is almost a homage to the latter from the distinctly quirky premise to the overexposed, saturated-color filming style to the markedly oddball characters. Derek Cecil stars as Jim Prufrock (get it?), a dweeby Internal Revenue Service accountant who stumbles into town after he gets a fax that suggests that a million dollars is missing from the Push casino. But in Push nothing is as it seems. Entire neighborhoods make synchronized love at 9:15 p.m. People who ought to be frightened of an IRS investigator aren't. The proprietor of the local motel insists that all guests be out of bed by 7 a.m. And everybody keeps warning Jim that he ought to just go home and forget it.
It's weird, to be sure. Even compelling. Although viewers don't seem to think so. The show is lagging so far behind in the ratings that ABC is expected to stop airing it after the Oct. 24 broadcast, which is a shame. At times, "Push" can be mesmerizing.
And to add to the fun, I suppose is what you'd call it some lucky viewer is going to win a million dollars. The details are on the ABC Web site (www.abc.com). The big payoff will go to the person who can figure out a series of clues hidden in the weekly broadcasts. (ABC says that viewers should have enough clues to solve the puzzle by the end of the month when the show's run ends.)
As somebody said on the Emmy broadcast recently, it's amazing that ABC can afford to give away a million dollars. Then again, maybe the million-dollar prize will turn out to be as real as Push and its soccer team. Now that would be really weird, wouldn't it? S
"Push, Nevada," airs through Oct. 24 at 9 p.m. on ABC-TV.
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