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Fox and P.T. Barnum Agree Again... For Now
January 25, 2008  | By David Bianculli
 
Legendary circus showman P.T. Barnum once reportedly insisted, "You'll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

In a related story (as Conan O'Brien might set up the segue), the Fox series Moment of Truth drew huge numbers in its prime-time debut Wednesday.

moment-of-truth-jan-23.jpg

How huge? It retained 94 percent of its American Idol lead-in, that's how huge. It drew an estimated 23.2 million viewers, that's how huge - easily beating The Sarah Chronicles as the highest-rated series premiere of the season. Apparently, people asking "How low can TV go?" were willing to turn to Fox in search of an answer.

My guess, and my hope, is that this novelty will fade rather quickly. Joe Millionaire was hot, too, for a while - and you don't have to watch Moment of Truth too long to realize how empty it is. And how essentially, inescapably repugnant.

"Is there an honest person left in America?" asks host Mark L. Walberg (not the actor Mark Walhberg, who's talented). Then this host, like a prime-time Diogenes, sets out in search of truth... by asking contestants to respond to increasingly embarrassing true or false questions, as their spouses, friends and/or loved ones sit nearby and cringe.

The gimmick is that all these questions, and more, already have been asked of the contestants previously, as part of a lie detector test. So the reality is, even though viewers don't know what's coming, the contestant sure does.

Then there's the problem of empathy. On Wednesday's premiere, for example, one of the contestants was asked, "Have you ever hit someone else's car and not left a note?" He admitted that he had - several times! - and when his "Yes" answer matched his previous lie-detector reply, the studio audience applauded.

Why? Because he came one step closer to winning some money? Or because he's such a jerk? And after a few replies like that, does the audience start rooting for the contestant to fail?

I sure did. But my dreams are bigger. I'm rooting for the whole show to fail.

Based on the ratings for the premiere, it's got a long, long way to fall - but I have faith. Faith in the short shelf life of novelty items, faith in the belief that bad reality shows eventually seep to their own barrel-bottom levels - and faith, in the end, in the intelligence of the American public.

Fool us once, shame on Fox. Fool us too often, though, and the blame will have to shift.

 

2 Comments

 

Gregg B said:

I think the initial ratings were mostly due to the curiousity factor. I know I was curious to see what it was all about and my 13 year old was practically apoplectic. Though I found it the whole show repugnant I did find the compulsive, hair clubbed for man, gambler somewhat sad and I was rooting for him. But the sooner the show is cancelled, the sooner fewer people will be humiliated. Writers come back soon!

Comment posted on January 25, 2008 9:24 AM


Jellybean66 said:

Mark L. Walberg...I remember him from "Temptation Island". Having watched the first season of that show was more than enough for me.
Anyway, I am a faithful AI watcher from the first episode until the last one when they announce the winner. I admit that initially, I was curious about "The Moment of Truth" but just for a few seconds. I had no desire to watch what I thought would be a stupid game show. I saw the commercials for it and I thought it seemed to be an adult version of the kids' game Truth or Dare except you're not in a basement with your friends (secretly hoping that if you are given a dare, you end up kissing the boy or girl you really like...), you're on national television exposing some very personal thoughts that should remain personal thoughts.
If anyone cares, I'm thinking of pitching a show to the major networks. I'm going to start videotaping the tree in my backyard just so people can see what goes on in the life of a tree. I think it'll be a big hit.

Comment posted on January 29, 2008 10:06 PM

 
 
 
 
 
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