Perhaps nothing better illustrates the artificiality of TV "reality" shows than the hostess for Fox's latest edition of Monday night footsie: Monica Lewinsky.
In her new five-week show, "Mr. Personality," Lewinsky will escort red-headed stockbroker Hayley Arp through the challenging task of picking an alleged "lifelong" love match from a batch of 20 men -- wearing clunky masks that make them resemble crash-test dummies.
What qualifications does Lewinsky have to be mistress of ceremonies? Brian Gadinsky, the executive producer for this typically vulgar Fox masked ball, was blunt: "Tune-in curiosity. We thought she'd be a great choice to garner interest in the show. It's worked. Everybody's talking about it." The reason was buzz and buzz alone. (Gadinsky also claimed he hired her because she had a "great personality.")
The Fox Web site suggests in its show biographies that Ms. Lewinsky is best known for her B.S. degree in psychology from Lewis and Clark College, and "she currently lives in New York City and is considering a future career in law." Her greatest qualification for Fox's circus ringmasters is undoubtedly her infamous White House sexual escapades.
But think of how Monica's presidential-dating style actually makes Fox romance shows look like slow-motion courtship. Five weeks of getting to know you? If she wanted Lewinsky's advice, the show's protagonist could just flash a thong at a powerful boss and get on with the nearly anonymous office action. Remember Monica complaining that she and the president had conducted a series of steamy encounters before he seemed to remember her name? That could make "Mr. Personality" look like "Leave It to Beaver."
But Fox doesn't really want to look demure. They like the naughty image. Here's how Fox chose to "recap" its own premiere online: "We're hit with a fast-paced montage of hot tubs, semi-naked frolicking, a guy screaming 'sit on Daddy's lap!' and other such debauchery." Fox has a history of exaggerating its offerings. They don't tell you they're describing the first 60 seconds of the show, which gives viewers a preview of all the lowlights to come.
The show wants to manufacture an acceptable mix of fairy-tale romance and dirty-dog sexual entendres. In the first show, the supposedly secretive suitors were loose-lipped about how they're "pretty good in the sack," and one boasted "I want to please my woman over and over and over again."
Since this whole reality-show romance routine is getting a little old, perhaps the most notable thing about the Lewinsky show is how relatively invisible she was in the premiere, popping up briefly only twice in the first 40 minutes. Talk about a cushy job, making a mint for doing next to nothing but serving as a visual prop for more Fox-factory sleaze.
Lewinsky's show replaced another Monday monstrosity called "Married by America." Fox promised that this show would offer the spectacle of people getting married sight unseen after being matched through a telephone poll, like "American Idol" for the romantically desperate. Predictably, the program ended without anyone actually disgracing the sacrament of marriage, and with Fox hoping everyone forgot its hyperbolic promos.
That's not to say the show didn't head for the sexual sewer. The worst night of that show was April 7, where Fox took the final two couples to Las Vegas for bachelor and bachelorette parties. The two "brides-to-be" enjoyed a male stripper who appeared to be licking whipped cream from between their legs. They then licked whipped cream off his nipples. Since that's not ribald enough, the women then entertained a female stripper, which one "bride" bounced on suggestively. The other licked whipped cream off her topless chest. The alleged grooms were treated to even worse. A duo of stripping, topless sisters were whipping one of them. You'd have to see this footage to believe it.
This kind of footage hasn't been seen on broadcast TV since Howard Stern's late-night syndicated TV show was canceled, but it was easily available to children at 9 o'clock Eastern time, 8 o'clock Central time at Fox affiliates across America. The lead-in for "Married by America" was the teen-targeted high school drama "Boston Public." The lead-in for the "Mr. Personality" premiere was a special edition of "American Idol," the highest-rated show for 2-to-17-year-olds.
If Fox wants to go for broke in laying the foundation for fractured family life, they ought to describe Monday night as Marriage Mockery Night. What better hostess for this kind of carnival than a woman who treated the Clinton marriage as a joke to be blissfully ignored.