The Next Joe Millionaire is Foreign to Viewers

October 29, 2003

By Stephen Battaglio

David Smith may have the contestants' attention, but not that of viewers.

'The Next Joe Millionaire" is going broke in the ratings.

The second episode of the Fox reality series drew a paltry 5.9 million viewers Monday, down 840,000 from its premiere a week ago. The audience for the first two episodes is 65% below what last year's version did, according to Nielsen Media Research.

"Joe Millionaire" stands out as a reality weakling. Based on the ratings for other reality shows, viewers still have an appetite for the genre.

Audiences are up over last year for NBC's "Fear Factor." ABC's "The Bachelor" and CBS' "Survivor" have seen only modest declines; both are still among the highest-rated shows on TV.

So what has gone wrong with "Joe"?

TV insiders believe Fox made big mistakes in the second go-around of the show, which has 14 women competing for the attention of David Smith, a broke Texas cowboy posing as a millionaire.

Using European women as contestants made the show less relevant to American viewers, some say.

"Having to subtitle people speaking English is an issue," said Jeff Gaspin, who oversees reality programming for NBC.

"The Next Joe Millionaire" also doesn't have the appeal of the first show's star, Evan Marriott, who "looked like the classic, cartoon version of a handsome prince," said another network executive.

Another problem is that "Joe Millionaire" is built on a deception.

Reality shows that have had lasting appeal, such as "The Bachelor" and "Survivor," feature people being themselves in extraordinary circumstances.

"'The Bachelor' is a very pure and clean concept," said ABC alternative programming executive Andrea Wong. "It is simply about finding love. All these people are not there for money. There is no twist to it."

Gaspin said NBC has managed to keep "Fear Factor" fresh by doing shows in new locations, such as Las Vegas. A "family edition," is coming up, according to Gaspin.

"Survivor" has also kept viewer interest by tweaking the rules for its castaways. A major surprise has been promised in this week's episode.

Despite the low ratings, Fox has no plans to cancel "The Next Joe Millionaire," which has eight episodes left in its run. But it's unlikely viewers will see a third version.

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