BY DONNA PETROZZELLO
October 14, 2003
All it took was money.
Or the hint of it.
And once again, a group of women competed for the heart of a hunk with bucks - only to have their gold digging shoved in their faces on Fox's second edition of the megahit "Joe Millionaire," starting Monday.
The new stud, David Smith, is a struggling Texas cowboy trying to pass as an oilman with $80 million of his uncle's money in the bank.
Can the same tall tale really work - and strike TV ratings gold again?
Well, 14 ladies swallowed the story in a huge way, says Mike Darnell, executive vice president of specials, alternative and late-night programming at Fox.
"When the women first saw David, he was their image of a typical, boorish American, until they find out he's got $80 million," Darnell says. "Then, all of a sudden, he's attractive."
Casting agents scoured Europe interviewing potential contestants who had never heard of "Joe Millionaire" and of how the show duped a group of women the same way last season.
They even used a lie detector to ensure that all of them were being truthful.
Even though the European women were ignorant about TV's biggest reality phenomenon, they sure weren't shy about quizzing Smith mercilessly about his money.
"They're unabashed about being attracted to a man for his money and about money being a big part of wanting to get a man," Darnell says.
Now the question is whether TV audiences will be hooked the same way they were by Evan Marriott, the first "Joe Millionaire."
That big lie brought big ratings last season.
With an average 23 million viewers, "Joe Millionaire" was TV's third-most-watched show last season, according to Nielsen ratings data.
Forty million people watched the finale, as Marriott revealed he was a $19,000-per-year ditch digger.
"I'm a heavy-equipment operator for a construction company," he told Zora Andrich.
"I would like to continue the journey and see what happens," she replied.
The relationship went nowhere.
Wringing a second season out of "Joe Millionaire" took some work.
Producers could not look for contestants in Great Britain and Australia, where the series ran. They also skipped France, where a similar series had been shown.
"If someone said they knew anything about 'Joe Millionaire' or had even heard that title, they were eliminated," Darnell says.
One finalist was cut just before filming began in Italy earlier this year because producers suspected she'd heard the title before.
After its premiere on Monday, the series will be shown on Mondays and Tuesdays for four weeks, starting Oct. 27, before ending with a two-hour finale on Nov. 24, the final Monday in TV's ratings-critical November sweeps period.
Samantha Harris, a former correspondent for TV entertainment show "Extra," replaces Alex McLeod as the host.
But the series' butler, Paul Hogan, will be back to help Smith with his charade - picking the proper fork and choosing the right clothes.
And picking the right woman.
What happened to Joe Millionaire No. 1? Well, Marriott had a guest spot on the season premiere of "Charmed" last month. This summer he signed to play Oscar Madison in a Bampton, Ontario, theater group's production of "The Odd Couple," but the show never came off.
Whether the new "Joe" repeats its ratings success, skeptics are pretty sure of one thing: The women will look foolish.
"I can't believe how many women are willing to do this in a day and age when we're expected to do more than just find a man," said Jennifer O'Connell, a market strategy analyst and author of "Bachelorette #1," a novel about a dating-show contestant.
"That they're willing to put off their jobs and friends and families and hang out in a mansion, trying to get a man to slip a ring on their finger, it's frightening.
Fox's lying millionaire, David Smith, had a simple life until now.
He lived in a trailer on his dad's ranch. His goal each weekend: get enough cash to fill his diesel gas tank.
Between ranch work and local rodeos, he earned about $11,000 a year. He worked on his rodeo technique at the local junior college. In 2000, he was named rookie bareback rider of the year by a pro rodeo club.
Then came the offer from "Joe Millionaire" producers.
"I thought, 'I'm 24, I've never been out of the country before, and I've got nothing to lose,'" said Smith.
So the small-town cowboy from Bellville, Tex. (about 60 miles outside of Houston) - who says he saw only the final episode of last season's reality blockbuster - learned to tell a Texas-size tall tale.
He pretended to be a 25-year-old oil tycoon - who inherited $80 million from an uncle. "It wasn't that hard a story to remember, because my dad is in the oil business," said Smith. "But the lie got hard to keep at the end.
"There were times that I wanted to leave Italy because the girls were so nice and pure and innocent, and I was deceiving them," he said.
In an attempt to squash suspicion that he wasn't the meal ticket he said he was, Smith would use Fox's cash to buy pricey trinkets for his dates - including a pair of $400 sunglasses - on a whim.
"In real life, I could never do that, and I felt badly about what I was telling them," he said.
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