New Season of 'Joe' Millionaire'

It's the same formula, different continent

October 20, 2003

Apparently still giddy after a stunning February sweeps victory, Fox TV chief Sandy Grushow announced during a press conference call last winter that - yes! - there will indeed be a new edition of "Joe Millionaire!" This won't be the same show, he coyly added at the time, but will incorporate similar "values." Not an ironist by trade or temperament, Grushow didn't mean that by "values" the show would suddenly have "ethics" - of which there are none in "Joe." By "values" he meant lies, deceit, greed and stupidity, of which there is plenty.

But we now know that part of Grushow's statement was, as they say in the network biz, a "whopper." In fact Joe II is exactly the same show. Yes, "The Next Joe Millionaire: An International Affair," premiering tonight on WNYW/5 at 8, has similar "values" but those are the same "values" of most reality shows. "Joe II" is "Joe I." Same gimmick. Same idea. Same leering, creepy butler (Paul Hogan; how could we forget him?) The women come from Europe, but that's of necessity. Everyone on this side of the Atlantic knows what the show's about, so Fox was forced to head overseas for patsies. That was a risk - especially if you believe the polls that say most Americans wouldn't know the Czech Republic from the Banana Republic - but after 40 million or so people watched the February finale, Fox was in a risk-taking mood. (In a recent press release, the network explained that it "had no choice but to search the globe to find the most beautiful, albeit clueless women....") Grushow's little fib, in fact, is irrelevant. Yes, he misled reporters (or "morons," as they're known around the Fox lot) and viewers ("suckers") but "Joe" is an industry now and a mild prevarication or two is good for business.

Because of its now tangled web, Fox had to ensnare unsuspecting Europeans, but at least that process must have been an amusing spectacle, worthy of its own series. Imagine the network limo pulling into some quaint and remote Apennine village, with the casting director poking his head out the window: "Anyone here speak English? Good - lead me to your local gold digger/floozy." Fox even boasted of administering lie detector tests to the Anna Nicole-wannabes. One possible question: "When you hear the words 'Evan Marriott,' does a hotel come to mind ... or a breathtakingly dull dude?'" Fox unearthed 14 victims in Italy (Giada is one), Holland (Anique), Germany (Jerusha), Sweden (Olinda) and (yes) mostly the Czech Republic (Tereza). This was some feat, as people in Sweden and Holland know more about our culture than their own - one reason for rampant anti-Americanism in both countries. But if you believe Fox - and you do, don't you? - none of them had ever heard of "Joe Millionaire." Then, there's David Smith, AKA Joe. Nice guy - we're told - except that he's good at lying. He's 24, from Bellville, Texas, and earned (per Fox) $11,000 last year as a rodeo rider. He's about to take "the world by the horns" says that breezy Fox press release, in part by telling those 14 clueless beauties that he's worth $80 million.

All this is just fine, really. As American viewers - particularly viewers of Fox - we're used to being debased, so why shouldn't the rest of the world jump on the debasement wagon, too? But the fact is, Fox now has a huge problem and when half the nation tunes in tonight, the problem will get a little bit bigger. Here's why: Fox needs "Joe" to help launch a batch of new series - including "Skin" (Mondays at 9) - this month, but it will also need "Joe" to become a network tent poll, along with "American Idol," in February. Then, it will need "Joe" next May, to help win the sweeps in that crucial month too. Fox, in other words, is now officially hooked on"Joe." If my counting is right, that means Fox needs at least two other editions for this season alone; starting next Monday, "International" will air twice weekly (Mondays and Tuesdays) with a Nov. 24 finale. But how many other parts of the world can Fox dupe? Surely the good people of Ceylon or Myanmar don't know about "Joe" yet or how about the Kamchatka peninsula in eastern Russia (or do they get signals from Alaskan TV there?). My theory is that Fox has already taped multiple "international" editions of "Joe" - indeed, taped them while "The Next Joe" was in production this past summer because Europe is no longer fallow ground. How could Fox do this? Simple! You lure multiple contestants and then split them up into various production camps. One show could have been taped at the Italian villa (where "The Next Joe" was taped) while another could have been taped nearby at another villa, and so on. This way, Hogan - the one and only "star" of "Joe" - simply shuttled between productions. Fox could even have shot a version with male contestants. (A Fox spokesman could not be reached to either confirm or deny this scenario.) Clever, very clever, but this is hardly a long-term solution.

The fact is, "Joe" will never be a "franchise" show like "Idol" because it will sink into oblivion from the weight of its own deceit.

Yup, Fox has painted itself into a corner, and it couldn't happen to a nicer network.

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