And you thought that The Running Man was just fiction.

A new show on ABC set to debut in January 2002. (Update Oct 22 2001: Because of "changes in the viewer landscape," the premiere of the show has been delayed indefinitely.) Produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (!), this reality TV show deploys someone (the Runner) in a random location who must elude capture by an Agent while performing little tasks to stay on their feet. Whoever finds the runner will receive a large cash prize (Affleck wants it to be up to $1 million, but it will probably be closer to $25,000). Both runners and agents will be recruited from the general public; the only people with SAG credentials will be the production crew and hosts Bo Dietl and Brian Jenkins.

To make the show a little more family friendly than The Running Man, the Runner will not be a convicted felon. Anyone who deliberately injures the Runner will be deemed ineligible to receive the prize. If the Runner is caught before the season ends, another Runner will be deployed in a different location.

An interesting concept in Reality TV, as it blends the show into the "real world" more than any other show except The Real World. Viewers will see clues on the Runner's location, and it is up to them to keep the Agents aware of the Runner's whereabouts. This is in stark contrast to shows like Survivor and Big Brother, where the idea is to observe people in complete isolation. ABC's last reality hit, The Mole, also let their players loose to do various tasks. (My favorite: letting a bunch of dumb Americans loose in a small European town to do some unorthodox task like asking if they can wash their clothes in a villager's house.)

Like many reality TV shows, the show has come under fire for shameless product placement. For example, if the Runner is instructed to go to McDonald's, that's basically a large billboard to be captured by the cameras. Other tasks, like calling someone on a Nokia mobile phone or ordering a latte at Starbucks, present goals for the Runner but commercials for the viewer. Some critics wonder whether people will want to watch these "ads between the ads."

Possibly intriguing, but the potential for abuse is high. I hope ABC has plenty of lawyers on retainer for when they get sued by Runners who have been pelted with rubber bullets despite the warnings not to harm them.