August 19, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

How’s this idea for a reality series? It’s called ”Survive This!”, and an unnamed NBC exec calls it ”’Survivor’ meets Hannibal Lecter,” and it would be hosted by Tamara Brooks and Jackie Marris, the two California teens who appeared recently on NBC’s ”Today” to discuss how they survived being kidnapped and raped by Roy Ratliff on Aug. 1. If you think it sounds too absurd and sick to be true, you’re right. Still, a news report announcing the series fooled a lot of people and caused some consternation at the network.

The report appeared Thursday in New Times Los Angeles, an alternative weekly newspaper. It quoted the girls’ ”newly-hired publicist,” one ”Lynne Balzac,” as saying, ”It’s easy for the public to question why Tamara and Jackie want to put themselves before the public eye again and again, but I have one word for what the girls get out of this, and that’s closure. In fact, I’d call having your own television show closure with a bonus, wouldn’t you?”

The articles deadpan tone tricked Matt Drudge, who linked to it on The Drudge Report, leading several reporters to call NBC about the series, according to the Hollywood Reporter. NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks had to issue a statement, saying ”There’s absolutely no truth to this at all.”

The article was bylined ”Antoine Oman,” but the Hollywood Reporter has fingered New Times staffer Tony Ortega as the real author. Contacted by the Reporter, Ortega said ”maybe” he wrote the piece and indicated that it was a satirical commentary on the saturation coverage that the girls’ abduction and similar crimes have received recently. Said Ortega, ”I hope it gets people to think about the nature of television and the business that it does.”

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