COUNTDOWN TO THE END

LATE-NIGHT TV is hurting since its invasion by loads of infomercials and endless reruns of Cops. The golden age of "Night Owl Theater" and "Black Belt Theater" are long gone, and any old wild shows that might be out there--Starsky and Hutch, Run Joey Run, Good Times, Electrowoman and Dyna Girl--have been rounded up and placed into their appropriately ironic kitsch context on various cable channels. No more sudden sightings of now-famous actors in their more humble (and embarrassing) days; no more flying off the coffee table in attempted imitations of Kung Fu moves.

Yet there's a show that at least makes Sunday nights bearable: Jack Van Impe Presents: World News and Bible Prophecy. This newscast-style program features Jack, his cohost/wife Rexala, and a commentator named Chuck Ohman. At breakneck speed they run through the latest news and match each story up with verses from the Bible--and wouldn't you know, most of them are from the Book of Revelations. The delivery blends the Bible with secular news sources in a surrealistic montage that's often amazingly poetic: Somehow, the fact that some clipping from the Detroit News denotes the white horse of the apocalypse suddenly doesn't seem that far-fetched.

Moreover, for folks predicting doomsday, they are remarkably pleasant and upbeat. One night Jack read fan letters that were almost identical in their deep appreciation for World News and Bible Prophecy. But it's not all smiles and affirmations. The entire cast, especially Rexala, are gravely concerned about a subject that gets under the skin of many Americans: One World Government. With a near-scientific zeal they prove that all the wrong people are getting together, as the United Nations and the new European Union plan to start rolling tanks down Mainstreet, USA. The hosts are also into a fantastic type of mathematics: the Rapture will last for a thousand years; it will take 24 hours for all the souls to return to earth; a thousand in the scriptures really means a million.

What makes this show different from other forms of televangelism is that Jack and Co. are constantly crediting the prophecies of Catholic priests and rabbis, even crediting one rabbi with predicting Desert Storm many years ago. Whatever the source, it all leads to the end of the world, which not surprisingly is scheduled for the year 2000. With World News and Bible Prophecy's arsenal of mind-boggling equations all pointing to the end of the millennium, forget the New Year's celebration at Times Square. Come the last night of 1999, I'll be at home with Jack Van Impe. (Paul D. Dickinson)

WHO NEEDS BOOKS?

SOME OF OUR favorite scenes at the gigantic American Bookseller's Association trade show, held in Chicago over the weekend of June 14:

* The women waiting in line for half an hour to get a Polaroid of themselves embraced by the arms of Fabio, or squeezed next to the bodice-buster on a vintage Harley-Davidson. Better still was the photographer, whose secondary duty was to chase away press photographers, yelling, "Fabio gets $10,000 per shoot! If I see any of those photos in print, I'll sue!!" Meanwhile, the cheezy romance novel penned by Fabio could barely be given away.

* Cindy Crawford, who one-upped Fabio by amassing enough people for an hour-long wait before she even appeared. No one we asked could name the book she'd written, but we heard it has something to do with makeup.

* The 6-foot-tall, radio-controlled Heinz Ketchup bottle, which kept zooming up on frightened crowds in an attempt to promote the history of catsup.

* The pranksters who nearly toppled a distraught, larger-than-human-sized Pillsbury Dough Boy with their relentless poking and prodding of his famously squishy abdominals. Barney and his female counterpart got little sympathy as well.

* G.I. Joe and his sad-but-true motto: "Old soldiers never die, your mom just throws them away."

* In a brief respite from the throng of oversized animals, cartoons, and superstars, we came upon a fully freaked Santa Claus who'd shut himself in a stall in the men's bathroom, groaning, "I can't go back out there, I can't go back out there!" (Eric Dregni)

 
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