For Fox, 'Joe Millionaire' breaks the ratings bank

By Gary Levin, USA TODAY

Joe Millionaire gave Zora a diamond ring, but Monday's romantic payoff of the reality dating drama handed Fox something even more valuable: a huge ratings win that all but guarantees the network's first sweeps month victory among the young adults advertisers covet and Fox targets.

The back-to-back hour-long episodes averaged 34.6 million viewers in preliminary Nielsen Media Research figures. A stunning 40 million (including 26.2 million 18-to-49-year-olds) were glued to the final hour as Zora reacted to the news that she had been "chosen," Evan Marriott admitted he wasn't rich, and the couple was served a $1 million check on a silver platter.

The Millionaire's second hour marked the most watched entertainment series episode since the premiere of Survivor's second season after the 2001 Super Bowl. It was the biggest entertainment event on TV since last year's Oscars, and it trumped every sitcom or drama since Seinfeld's sayonara in May 1998. It also eclipsed a night-long Fox ratings record set just four weeks ago by the season premiere of American Idol, which drew 26.5 million fans.

"The show is a testament to a great idea executed really well," says Fox entertainment chief Gail Berman, who credited the twist on ABC's The Bachelor and other dating shows. "It really tapped into something in the public: Is it money or is it love?"

Local stations set ad rates based on viewership in a few key months, including February. And Joe's numbers far exceeded the most optimistic projections, climbing by 11 million viewers over last week's anticlimactic letdown. Half of all women ages 18 to 34 watching TV tuned in.

The finale easily overcame last-minute roadblocks: Specials on this month's other star, Michael Jackson, on NBC and ABC proved no match. Though he's not doing any interviews this week, you haven't seen the last of Evan: Fox plans an "aftermath" special next Monday (9 p.m. ET/PT) that promises to reveal whether the couple is still together (taping of the series wrapped in late November) and offering their first post-finale reactions. In the meantime, unsated fans can content themselves with tonight's Bachelorette finale on ABC (9 ET/PT) and Fox's own Jackson special Thursday (8 p.m. ET/PT) offering footage more sympathetic to the scandal-plagued singer.

Zora News Articles

Zora's Place