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What Would Bogie Say?

June 15, 2006 By:
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On the hunt: Both the Fogals (above) and Ben Hanlon (left) are on the fly in search of gold.
It's the ultimate afikomen hunt with a seder table spread out all over the world.

Indeed, "Treasure Hunters" may be the summer's biggest programming treasure as its 10 teams of three players each find that the last of their four questions - "Where am I?" "How do I survive this heat?" "Aren't we better than them?" and, ultimately, "Where's the loot?" - is the trove to treasure.

And if matzah isn't the moolah they're after, they're all still money mavens; an award of golden moments awaits the winners at season's end.

But, first things first, the beginning: When "Treasure Hunters" premieres this Sunday night at 8 on NBC, it provides a sea hunt that would captivate Lloyd Bridges, and a land grab that would make beady-eyed Peter Stuyvesant look cheap by comparison.

You don't have to be a genius to crack the "Da Vincible Code" that leads to the great reward - or do you? Indeed, one of the quirkily titled teams is dubbed"The Geniuses" - magna-cum-lauded leaders of academia who are not intellectually above getting their game plan tied up in ivy or not seeing the ivory tower right under their noses.

As for that afikomen, passing over all this grab for the gold - and ratings - is a woman who's having a halvah good time serving as one of the show's executive producers.

Can Jane Lipsitz lip-synch the words "winner takes all"?

Sure, she's well familiar with the phrase as a four-time Emmy Award nominee whose "Last Comic Standing" is back up and running this summer on the same network.

The woman who gave "Project Greenlight" its green light is lit up about this one now, produced, like the others, by Magical Elves, the company Lipsitz created five years ago with Dan Cutforth.

Cut to the current and realize that those magic elves are at work again: "Treasure Hunters" is a treat that combines aspects of "The Da Vinci Code" with amazing races and survivor kits and caboodle.

Indeed, since one of Lipsitz's co-producers, Brian Grazer, is repped on screen these days with a certain film about a holier than thou grail, is it fair to imagine "Treasure Hunters" as a secular "Da Vinci Code"?

In a way, concedes Lipsitz, she's hoping her show will attract a cult following in the multimillions that would have a Mona Lisa smiling broadly. "Obviously, we worked with Imagine on this," she says of Grazer's company.

How dark the conniving of men and women? And what better project to look for signs from than "Da Vinci"?

"The success of 'The Da Vinci Code' is taking familiar icons and revealing secrets and mysteries about them," she says. "This is about the secrets of American history."

Indeed, who knew that Mount Rushmore could provide such a rush for riches? But it does, in addition to a pump of adrenaline, as the 10 teams of lost tribes, dropped off in the middle of nowhere, left clueless except for the occasional mysterious hint, wind their way in the first episode to the mountain that broke the backs of at least one team headed in the wrong direction.

"This is about the spirit of America," says Lipsitz of the spirited players trying to catch the cache that will leave them answering the ads for "Who Wants to Maneuver a Millionaire."

In casting about for teams that would make the treasure of Sierra Madre look like fool's gold, Lipsitz lucked out with loose cannons and straightforward friends with their own set of ethical canons in pitting each against the other with codes, clues and quagmires greeting their every missed step.

These "Treasure Hunters" are clued into a real summer treat. "It takes all kinds of smarts" is Lipsitz's take on who they chose and for what reasons you have three former Miss USA contestants getting things off their treasure chests in a beauty of a battle with former CIA agents and others.

From this producer of "Bands on the Run," it's easy to see why treasure hunters on the run makes for a fascinating band of 30 thirsty road-runners.

But who plays the coyote?

In a way, greed and grated nerves play out convincingly and connivingly under hot suns and heated disagreements.

After all, taking part in what the producer concedes may very well be the most expensive reality series in history, the prize package they're after is more than Sailor Jack and Bingo could ever crack in a case of "Cracker Jack."

And, by the way, what is that reward? "The treasure is part of the mystery," attests a mysterious Lipsitz.

What's not so mystifying is the appeal of men and women bumping heads against each other, especially when some of those heads are as brainy as they are.

Yet the puzzle is a head code that requires more than two aspirin to resolve: "It's definitely a balance of the physical and intelligence side as well," she says.

Come on, Jane, piece the puzzle together of how you got three braniacs - "The Geniuses" - to take part in such a physically challenging endeavor that requires heavy lifting of its heroes - on an intellectual and physical level?

"For the 'Geniuses,' we wanted a team of professors."

So where did she recruit them? At a MENSA meeting? A nuclear scientists cousins club? A "Linguistics & Linguini" luncheon?

"We found them … at a Victoria Secret's rally."

Role models for a nightgown to remember?

Some puzzles are better left indecipherable.

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