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February 23, 2000

Family-Approved Site by The Dove Foundation

The Egg Is Laid and It's a Rotten One

       I am not one who roots for failure. Even though I do not have equal fondness for the four network prime time quizzes of the current revival, I do not want to see any of them die because too many network executives and critics will quickly pounce on a game show's failure. However, few are in as celebratory a mood as I am over the ruckus surrounding Fox's non-game Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?
       What I say here about this colossal embarrassment is sure to collide with those who occasionally e-mail me, "Don't like your politics....but love your page." Ironically, WWTMAM? is one of the few chapters in modern history which has political and religious conservatives and the National Organization for Women on the same page. Take it I will unapologetically never be sitting at the same table with Bill Maher.
       Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? is the sickest affront to the much-maligned sacrament of marriage in ages. Sure, it was a television stunt. One which did not take a brain surgeon to predict its massive success with viewers. We are, as a collective whole, willing voyeurs to the bizarre. After all, we sat transfixed for the first two of the four years of The Gong Show. Thirty-five million of us waited two hours in the late '80s for Geraldo Rivera to open nothing from Al Capone's vaults.
       I was diverted the evening of WWTMAM? in a much more highbrow pastime, hosting my own I've Heard That Song!. When I arrived home, I popped in the tape---ostensibly to lead a discussion about the women-with-a-need-for-greed special the next day in Mass Media class.
       This was more surreal than any episode of The Twilight Zone. When the show's final moments saw five women, all in bridal veils, as "finalists," I almost felt as if I were watching a live cartoon show. Then, the light bulb went off: I was watching a live cartoon show.
       We should be no more surprised at this than the price of gas approaching $2 a gallon. Face it, network television has treated marriage as no more than a casual act for years. Look at the daytime soaps, for which infidelity is the equivalent of fun and games. Take the young sitcom of the nineties, Friends (please!). Marriage is a total encumbrance to those characters. Committment? Those people blow Thorndike-Barnhart's definition completely out of the dictionary.
       Look at America off television. The prevailing attitude of young adults for twenty years toward marriage has been, "If it doesn't work, we can always get out of it." A terribly optimistic view.
       As for Rick Rockwell, or Rock Rickwell, or whatever his name is, Fox has an extraordinary amount of egg to wipe. Do you realize how much a detailed background check of this guy would have taken? On the fly, perhaps $250. Is one not the least bit incredulous at Rockwell's mother not even knowing he allegedly is a multimillionaire, as we have learned in recent days?
       As this is being written, Darva Conger's "exclusive" interview with Diane Sawyer is still hours away. If the two are not still together, or the "marriage" is short-lived (and I ask no forgiveness for those quotation marks), you're going to hear a groundswell of public and media support for Conger. She'll be reporters' "designated victim." Make no mistake, Conger is no victim. She willingly and enthusiastically engaged in this circus. This is a trained nurse who served in the Persian Gulf War. Her intelligence quotient may be on the fritz but people do not emerge from nursing school by reading "R.N.s for Dummies." If she and Rockwell do, somehow, manage to stay "hitched," I sincerely hope they will evolve into something called committment, for the right reasons, not his so-called multimillions.
       The most culpable in all of this, however, is the Fox Television Network----as well as the 22.8 million viewers who offered credence to this charade. True, Fox moved quickly to cancel the repeat showing of WWTMAM and any future sequels----but only after the embarrassing allegations surfaced about Rockwell over the weekend. Charges, to be sure, which he has angrily denied to KGTV but this is a live, pending court case against him.
       As for the viewers, this is all proof positive Newton Minow's legendary speech to television station owners of nearly four decades ago was in vain. When he referred to television as a "vast wasteland," the programs and formats he singled out were Shakespearean in quality compared to last Tuesday night on Fox. In a sense, we deserve it, because we get what we are willing to invest time to watch.
       As for the genre we follow here, I am insulted this broadcast was even remotely lumped together with game or quiz shows. There is absolutely no connection, other than a borrowing of the root of the name of the biggest phenomenon in television. In recent weeks, this website has received national attention in assorted publications. Some of those same correspondents have called for my reaction to WWTMAM?. However, I was unprepared for the hostility in the voice of the editor of one religious publication who accused me of ambiguity because I would salute "those greedy quiz shows" for bringing families together in front of the tube and simultaneously pan the Fox special. That man had an agenda and a view he would not change.
       The fast cancellation of Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire is the right thing to do. But it's not enough. Somehow, I have a transcendental feeling reporters who have more time to devote to the aftermath of this debacle than I will keep digging and probably uncover more callousness in the development of this program. It's one thing to produce television to attract viewers. It's another thing to produce a radical concept which has built-in risks and not explore every avenue to minimize the prospect for failure. Network executives have been fired for less than this program. If Fox were to take the genuinely boldest step in this case, at least one or two heads would roll.
       But Fox is Fox and we'll probably see the "edgy" network pass it off as a good idea gone bad and hoping everyone will all forget about it within a period of weeks (fat chance, in this case). Just hold your breath. Fox will probably take another dip into the pool of quality television again soon. More than likely, we'll hear Sandy Grushow announce a series of specials, When Good Greed Contestants Go Bad.

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