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"Moment of Truth" for Network TV?
January 22, 2008  | By David Bianculli
The Fox network, which in the past has presented such reprehensible unscripted TV as Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?, The Littlest Groom, When Animals Attack and so many others, tomorrow night at presents another new series sure to attract headlines - and, most likely, lots of viewers. It's Moment of Truth... in more ways than one.

moment-of-truth-jan-23.jpgFox sent out only snippets for preview, and is counting on the show's American Idol lead-in, audacious promos and train-wreck premise to lure viewers instead. It's a trick that has worked for Fox before, and most probably will again. When the premise of the show is, in essence, a Newlywed Game with lie detectors, asking contestants embarrassing questions they're required to answer "truthfully," what can come of it other than coast-to-coast embarrassment?

Fox used to be known primarily for this type of bottom-feeding high-concept stuff. (That's in concept, since I haven't seen the full show. Despite the promos, it could be a warm family show with uplifting messages and high entertainment values. Whoops, better duck! Watch out for that flying pig!)

But these days, when you think of Fox, you're most likely to think of American Idol, House, 24, The Simpsons - pretty good stuff, overall. Fox even has given us Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the one scripted series this season that looks to have caught on big with viewers.

Elsewhere, though, what are we getting? NBC is proud of its American Gladiators circus, and next month will present Baby Borrowers, a reality show that might make Kid Nation look like a responsible programming experiment. CBS is polluting its airwaves with another Big Brother, this time in the middle of a TV season rather than the summer and ABC - well, Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann about says it all.

These network heads actually think they're performing well and intelligently, during the writers' strike, by filling hours with programs that are a) not generated by members of the Writers Guild of America, b) cheaper to make than scripted dramas and sitcoms, and c) often draw higher ratings in the time slots than the scripted shows they're replacing.

And yes, short term, that all makes sense, as well as dollars. But no one on the network side appears to be looking at the long-term impact of introducing such tacky trash into the prime-time network bloodstream. How is a network devalued when some of the stuff it's presenting is no better or less demeaning than a Flavor of Love on VH1?

They're not asking that question. But I am... and this year, in the midst of the strike, may turn out, in hindsight, to have been the Moment of Truth.




Bill Chapman said:


How come tonight's Frontline hour (Growing Up Online) fails to merit a best bet designation?

(It probably should have, but I have a weakness for "Sierra Madre." But your question, and instincts, are good. So is the program. -- David B.)

Comment posted on January 22, 2008 3:27 PM

TC said:

Long-term, the networks are castrating themselves if they continue this.

I watch many, many shows on DVD instead of when the run on TV. I often just don't have time when the shows are on because I'm a grad student.

I'm finding that there are lots of recent shows that had promise but were canceled after one season (or less). But when I think of great TV - shows like Seinfeld and The X-Files - they didn't "find" an audience immediately. Some great shows need time to grow into their audience. And it seems networks aren't giving that time anymore since they can run cheaper "reality" TV that brings in immediate ad revenue.

It's sad. And you're right. It's eventually going to be bad for business, since no one is going to buy American Gladiators on DVD a decade from now.

Comment posted on January 22, 2008 9:24 PM

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