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ABC's 'Push' is looking for armchair sleuths

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- Push, Nevada" is a mystery-drama. "Push, Nevada" is an interactive game viewers can play at home. It's two -- TWO! -- TV shows in one.

Best of all, viewers can pick how they want to approach "Push." They can watch it passively like any other program, or they can get obsessed with it, taping episodes and freeze-framing through, hunting for clues.

It all begins when scrupulous IRS agent Jim Prufrock (Derek Cecil) receives an errant fax from casino manager Silas Bodnick (Jon Polito) that shows "a consequential accounting error."

Prufrock travels to Push, Nev., and discovers "Twin Peaks"-style weirdness aplenty. Everyone has sex nightly at the same time, a masked man murders someone and a mysterious woman (Scarlett Chorvat) takes an interest in Prufrock's investigation.

Combining a traditional scripted drama with a play-along game element appealed to executive producers Ben Affleck and Sean Bailey. Their company, LivePlanet, previously produced HBO's "Project Greenlight," which chronicled the making of a low-budget movie.

"The idea always was blurring the line between what was real and what was fictional as an effort to make the story seem more real," Affleck said at a July press conference. "Part of the excitement was how ambitious the concept was. We never wanted to borrow from Peter to pay Paul in the sense of making one suffer for the sake of the other, but we thought it was a fun idea."

"First and foremost, this is, hopefully, a compelling drama," Bailey said. "The game coexists with it, hopefully, seamlessly."

A large amount of money is stolen in the first scene of tonight's premiere. It's that money viewers will be eligible to win. Titled "The Amount," the episode includes clues, including the amount of money that's up for grabs. Pay attention to Prufrock's room number at his Push hotel, particularly when he exits the room. The prize money is in excess of $1 million.

Web sites and phone numbers also will pop up or be referenced in the show that may provide clues (http://www.pushtimes.com is the town newspaper and http://www.visitpush.com is the chamber of commerce). A repeat of tonight's premiere at 8 p.m. Thursday will identify the first episode's clues through use of graphics. Rules of the game will be posted at http://www.abc.com.

Bailey advised viewers to look for redundancies in information because "that's the information we're trying to convey to you." He said some red herrings may be introduced, but there won't be great efforts to throw armchair sleuths off track.

"If they should get engaged, I think the audience will jump on a lot of things we didn't intend as clues thinking they're potential clues," Bailey said.

Those without Web access won't be left out, because the game is designed so the mystery can be solved by watching the TV show only.

"Some people will have an appetite for paying attention to it and some people won't be interested at all," Affleck said. "There's a segment of the audience that's substantial that likes to obsess over these kinds of shows and gets very involved in that. We're trying to offer something for those folks and have a deeper entertainment experience for people who are really interested in sort of drilling down deep.

"What we're really excited about is that we came up with what I think is a really good mystery with a solution," Affleck said. "It's not just arbitrary weirdness or arbitrary quirkiness. Every single thing that happens in the course of this show that's unusual has an answer to it. At the end of the [first] 13 [episodes] you'll see why the town works that way."

Of course, TV viewers have become somewhat cynical about the chances for any TV show to survive, let alone an innovative, slow-moving program that will normally air at 9 p.m. Thursday opposite TV's No. 1 drama (CBS's "CSI") and a hit comedy (NBC's "Will & Grace"). ABC Entertainment president Susan Lyne acknowledged that "Push" will compete in TV's toughest time slot.

"If we're going to make inroads there, it will probably be with a show that makes some noise, and that is really a programming alternative," she said. "It doesn't have to get a huge [ratings] number to be successful for us. A fairly low 18 to 49 rating will be a real success for us, so I think it would be unlikely we'll take it off before all 13 episodes air."

"Push" faces another obstacle: Will viewers buy an IRS agent as a hero? Affleck acknowledged that it's a somewhat perverse concept, but Prufrock is depicted as such a morally upright character, concerns about his occupation may be moot.

"With all these corruption and accounting scandals, we were a little precognitive in a way about the last honest, fair-minded guy in a seething world of lies and fraud and malfeasance," Affleck said.

Cecil, who plays Prufrock, said the similarity to characters portrayed by Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper appealed to him.

"It does hearken back," said Cecil, "to characters we haven't seen for ages -- what it meant to really believe in something and fight for it and what's the cost of that and how far can you go without compromising. That's a question that's not asked much anymore."

For Affleck, who's more accustomed to dodging paparazzi as a bachelor movie star, working on "Push" (he wrote the first two episodes with Bailey) offers a different creative satisfaction.

"It's fun to not be out in front doing it," Affleck said. "When you're an actor, a lot of times you get blamed when a movie doesn't work even though you didn't direct the movie, didn't write the movie. This is a chance to have more of a sense of authorship. You get to tell the whole story instead of just interpret your particular part of the story."


Rob Owen can be reached atrowen@post-gazette.com .

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