NEW YORK – The idea was to offer viewers the chance to win $1 million for watching all 13 episodes of the quirky new ABC whodunit Push, Nevada.
Now the network and the series' producers -- who include movie-star Ben Affleck -- have a problem.
What happens if Push, Nevada is cancelled before they have a chance to give away the $1 million?
From the start, Push was at a disadvantage. It was scheduled opposite Friends and Survivor: Thailand, two of the biggest shows on television.
Last week's episode was seen by only 4.4 million viewers -- good for a cable TV show but far below what a big network series is expected to reach.
Worse, the audience seems to be diminishing more each week -- and cancellation is more than a theoretical possibility. ABC execs huddled in meetings this week to decide the show's fate, an industry source told The Post.
Several ideas were kicked around, said the source:
"Do you continue the game, maybe put it on hiatus and bring it back at a later date?
"Do you re-purpose it on ABC Family and let it play out there?
"Do you work out somehow where you put in a master clue in the last episode that airs that will let people figure it out."
Last summer Affleck told TV critics he already had an exit plan in mind if the show started getting creamed by the competition.
"If we get buried under an avalanche of CSI and Will & Grace, we will stuff a bunch of clues in the last episode. We have confidence we'll be able to maintain the integrity and secrecy of the puzzle," he said.
"If we don't, we'll have egg on our faces."
A studio source noted that producers would probably need only a week's notice to whip into shape what would become the show's final episode.
An ABC spokesman said no decisions have been made yet.
"Last week was obviously not going to be ABC's night, we understood that going into it," ABC's Kevin Brockman said. "We were up against the premieres of some of the most popular shows on network television [including Friends]. Therefore we'll wait and see how the landscape plays out this week."
The show follows an IRS investigator (played by Derek Cecil) trying to find out what's going on in a corrupt desert town called Push, Nevada. Someone has been embezzling millions from the local casino and just about everyone on the show is trying to find out where the cash is being stashed.
That's the basis of the unusual viewer contest that was meant to boost ratings -- but so far as come up a bust.