The power of romance never dies, especially in Hollywood. Romance movies being almost as popular as romance novels, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood discovered the endless possibilities in romance "reality" TV. And therein lies the irony. The romance one sees on "reality" television is just about as realistic as that Clinton slow dance on the beach.
Fox earned its highest ratings ever outside of major sporting events with the finale of "Joe Millionaire," which added a 21st century twist to the traditional dating-game female demographic by promising that the man in question would be lying his face off to a bevy of apparently gold-digging schemers.
Fox's regular "Joe" was Evan Marriott. Fox told its viewers in endless promotional advertisements that "Joe" was really just a lowly construction worker making $19,000 a year. Twenty unsuspecting ladies would be taken to a French chateau, where they'd be told he'd inherited $50 million. Not only was Joe lying to these women; Fox was lying to its viewers. Reporters soon found public records stating Marriott was renting a $1.7 million home in Venice, Calif., as late as last December. They reported the Department of Labor statistics showing how the average California construction worker earns $42,000 a year. Marriott explained the discrepancy by claiming he only worked a few months out of the year. But that didn't stop the Fox manipulators from repeating the untrue "$19,000 a year" line in every show.
Coming from the network that gave us "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?" it was a natural for Fox to host a series depicting some fraud taking advantage of 20 gullible women. But Fox had other ideas, apparently, undoubtedly trying to escape its trademark sleaziness. It had scheming, catty women to root against -- sure. But it presented Marriott as faultlessly kind to the ladies, a lovable rogue of sorts, even when he was lying through his teeth. Fox repeated ad nauseam the "unscripted" moment when Marriott told a Fox producer that lying to his dates was eating his brains out.
Even the finale of this "reality" series seemed just a wee bit too well scripted for me. Wouldn't you know it, but Marriott's two female finalists were straight out of Central Casting. Sarah was revealed to be a star of cheerleader-bondage films, while Zora was the modern-day Snow White, kissing horses and volunteering in nursing homes. Sarah was the cocky, chain-smoking plotter who would be dismissed, clearly disappointed by the "millionaire" fakery, not because Joe and Fox were lying, but because they were lying about that 50 mil. Zora, who all along had stood apart from the other women by withholding kisses and maintaining her decorum in all that gilded greediness, would tell Marriott she found the fake fortune off-putting anyway. Ah, Cinderella.
Fox couldn't leave the sour taste of dishonesty lingering in the air at the series' conclusion, so the producers concocted a million-dollar gift for this concocted couple. That, in a nutshell, is the "reality" of reality TV.
And still, "Joe Millionaire" was light years more honest than its competition at ABC, which must have Walt Disney spinning in his grave. This network can't display a shred of intellectual honesty in its romance reality series. ABC has aired two sets of "The Bachelor" series, and in both cases, the bachelors, Alex Michel and Aaron Buerge, actually dumped the women ABC led millions to believe represented their true loves and brides-to-be. Was ABC just a bit embarrassed, maybe humiliated, that these romances were in fact nothing of the sort? Hardly. ABC shamelessly used, complete with massive promotion, Buerge's breakup as an excuse for another Nielsen-milking special.
Recently concluded "The Bachelorette" was ABC's third series in this set, supposedly a role reversal formula where now it would be the men's turn to get the weekly humiliation. But just like Fox, ABC manipulated its supposedly unscripted "reality" finale -- and the audience -- with what looks like a clear plotline. Would Trista Rehn (rejected in the finale of the first "Bachelor") choose slick money-manager Charlie or cornball poet-firefighter Ryan? The show's producers gave the audience every suggestion that Charlie was in and Ryan was done. And so did Trista, going so far as to tell Charlie, "My heart's with you" -- only to choose the underdog good guy, Ryan.
The absurdity of the show's six-weeks-to-engagement plotline should come through loud and clear when the two males meet Trista's family. In this scene, the father asks them to explain how their four dates with his daughter had gone. How many fathers (even Hollywood dads) would smilingly welcome a daughter's engagement being decided by four dates?
Some 40 million people watched the finale of "Joe Millionaire." Another 20.4 million tuned in to "The Bachelorette." We're doomed.