Goodbye Joe?

Joe Millionaire's poor ratings may be beginning of the end for reality TV

By BILL BRIOUX -- Toronto Sun

Are viewers finished with Average Joes and ready to return to scripted shows?

Arnold Schwarzenegger's election as governor of California might just be the shark-jumping point for all this reality fare. It looks as if The Terminator has scared the masses back to The West Wing where it's safe and scripted.

That possibility was raised with the utter collapse Monday night of Joe Millionaire. Last season, the double-cross dating show was a Top 3 hit both in the U.S. and Canada, averaging 23 million stateside viewers and setting records on Toronto's CITY-TV.

North American viewers, however, just didn't pony up for this latest Joe. According to fast national overnight U.S. ratings compiled by Nielsen Media Research, The Next Joe Millionaire came fifth in its timeslot. It scored 34% fewer viewers than Boston Public did on the same night a year ago. In other words, it was a big honkin' flop.

What happened? This looked like the surest thing since Survivor, the reality show that will not die (still No. 1 overall in Canada on Global and No. 4 last week in the U.S. on CBS).

Fox and CITY were all set to air Joe Millionaire twice a week for the next two months. You can bet Fox executives have their schedule ripped and pinned up all over some wall this morning.

ABC also saw a surprising drop in The Bachelor when that series returned this fall (although last week's show climbed back into the Top 20 with 12.6 million viewers). Has the dating pool been diluted with too many copycat relationship shows?

It does seem as if the genre is played out. After years in syndication, there just isn't the buzz there used to be around Blind Date. NBC did just so-so with Who Wants To Marry My Dad? this past summer and Fox's Cupid was a misfire. Even Miss Match, the new NBC drama starring Alicia Silverstone as a charming matchmaker, is tanking on Friday nights.

Fox may have blundered by picking a cowboy as their new Joe. Texas rodeo hand David Smith, 24, is a clean-cut, aw-shucks country kid. This time around, the boozy foreign babes lusting after him are the heavies. If Fox were trying to cash in on postwar sentiment by pitting an all-American boy against back- stabbing Eurotrash, it may have put its money on the wrong horseman.

Besides, chicks don't mind guys that are dumb (in fact, they expect that), just as long as they're dangerous. This Joe looks as if he couldn't rope a kitten.

It may also be that this Joe Millionaire twist could only work once. These 14 women may be the only people left on the planet willing to get fooled again. Viewers still remember that there really was no hookup when the last show ended. Evan Marriott and some babe split a big fat cheque and went their separate ways. End of story.

It hasn't stopped other broadcasters from wading into the dating pool. NBC will launch Average Joe Nov. 3, a six-episode lark hosted by Suddenly Susan's Kathy Griffin. Described as the "anti-Bachelorette," this series will pit former beauty queen and Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader Melana Scantlin against 16 dumpy suitors who all look pretty much like TV critics. Yikes! And speaking of The Bachelorette, ABC is set to bring us Trista's Wedding during the November sweeps. But do viewers really want a happy ending? Wouldn't they rather see Trista's Honeymoon Temptation?

Next month, the diginet PrideVision TV is set to air Fairy Tales, billed as the "first ever gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, dating show." Why shouldn't those folks have the same opportunity to be reduced to desperate losers in order to amuse a TV audience -- if there's any audience left?

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