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USA tries to lure twentysomething viewers away from the evening news with provocative programming.

Digging for the Demographic

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Now let's see ... where were we? Oh, yeah. Two weeks ago we were talking about USA Network's counter-programming and its attempts to lure the young demographic away from the local news at 11 p.m. with "Strip Poker."

Well, there's more to the story.

USA is doing the same thing from 6 to 7 p.m. with "Crush" and "Friends or Lovers."

"Crush" brings together a twentysomething guy or a girl and three people of the opposite sex, one of whom has a crush on him or her. On one recent show, it was Michael, a young Air Force pilot-to-be who was about to start 18 months of training. The three girls, all friends of his, were Mina, Kasey and Laura. Each had a plausible story about her crush on Michael. His task was to figure out which one was telling the truth. The girls gushed a lot, Michael blushed a lot, and then he decided it was Mina who secretly harbored romantic feelings for him.

But it doesn't end there. The show offered Michael a "dream vacation" and the chance to decide whether he'd take Mina — or somebody else — along with him.

If you think the premise of "Crush" is way out there, wait until you check out "Friends or Lovers." This one gets rougher.

"FOL" also presents a twentysomething contestant, but the challenge is even more bizarre. Along with the contestant comes the contestant's best friend and the contestant's current flame. The prize is again a "dream trip," and the contestant has to decide whether to take the friend or the flame along.

Nick was the contestant on one recent episode. His girlfriend, Tifiny, and his best friend, Eric, came along with him. With Tifiny out of the room, Eric dropped the bomb: Tifiny had taken $500 Nick had lent her for a car and spent it on a "bachelorette party" in Vegas that featured male strippers. Nick was flabbergasted.

Cheesy? You bet.

But that's not the point.

It's the scramble for ratings that counts, and using a combination of shock and reality, USA is hoping to lure away from Jennings, Brokaw and Rather young viewers with lots of disposable income. The other cable networks are also trying to round up those same viewers, but none has yet shown the ... um ... flair that USA has. Who knows? It may succeed enough to make the evening news hour profitable for USA, even though the tactic will probably never catapult the network ahead of CBS, NBC and ABC.

By the way, if you just can't stand the suspense, Michael correctly picked Mina as the one with the crush on him. And Nick decided to stick with Tifiny.

And a good time in Acapulco was had by

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