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EDITIONS
 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 10:32 GMT
Women's group attacks reality show
Joe Millionaire
Are the women gold diggers or romantics?

American TV's latest reality sensation Joe Millionaire has been condemned by one of the country's leading women's organisations for "trivialising love and marriage".

In Fox Television's creation, Evan Marriott is portrayed as a bachelor who has recently inherited $50m (£31m) and is looking for true love.

Joe Millionaire
If the girls knew what I do for a living, they would never date me

Evan Marriott
In reality Evan, aka Joe Millionaire, is a $19,000-a-year construction worker.

None of the women are aware of Evan's pauper-like status and truly believe that by capturing his heart they are guaranteed a fairytale life of luxury.

Robert Knight of Concerned Women for America told BBC News Online the show was "turning the viewer into a modern day Caesar giving the thumbs down to contestants".

He said: "The take-home message from this show is that it's okay to lie, to cheat and to mislead as long as its entertaining and we can make a lot of money out of it."

Première

Proof that Fox is laughing all the way to the bank comes from the viewing figures which indicate that Joe Millionaire is a runaway success.

The network openly boasts that it lies

Robert Knight
campaigner
The première attracted 18.6 million viewers, outperforming the première of every other reality series so far and this week's outing pulled in a strong 17.5 million to win Monday evening.

More significantly for the network, it was the highest-rated series start on any network this season among the coveted 18 to 34 age group.

They are the holy grail for advertisers who will pay premium prices to reach them.

Fox's Entertainment President Gail Berman is clearly proud of Joe Millionaire and its impact.

Base behaviour

"This show has tapped into the zeitgeist of something that this particular audience is fascinated by: relationships and what makes them work," he said.
It is a sad indictment of our culture

Melissa Caldwell, Parents Television Council

But Mr Knight, who is also the author of The Age of Consent; The Rise of Relativism and the Corruption of Popular Culture says that rather than promoting qualities that would foster healthy relationships, the show promotes base behaviour best left in the gutter.

"The network openly boasts that it lies. In a more virtuous age, that should repel people not attract them to the show.

"They have made a virtue out of lying. I also find it offensive that the message it sends to young girls is that if you don't vamp it up enough you might not get what you want."

Phenomenon

Equally acerbic in its criticism is the Parents Television Council which claims its mission is to "restore responsibility and decency to programming".

The group's director of research and publication, Melissa Caldwell, admits that while the show is an interesting phenomenon, it does not speak well of our times.

"For viewers to take such a morbid interest in others as they degrade themselves and are ridiculed for the sake of getting in good with a guy worth $50m is a sad indictment of our culture."

In this week's episode some of the women had to muck out horse stalls, shovel coal and pick grapes from vines in the pouring rain.

Then it was back to the French Chateau, which is doubling as Evan's residence, to plot against one another for a spot in next week's episode and of course another crack at "Mr Moneybags".

While Evan shows some crisis of conscience about lying to these women and the American public, he says he also wants to find out if they are interested in him or his wallet.

He confessed that "if some of the girls knew what I really do for a living, they would never date me".

It could be argued that that question has already been answered by some of the women. One admits she has "never dated a guy with $50m" while another asks "Do I want to marry a man with money?".

"Of course," she replied emphatically.

Depths

TV historian Tom O'Neil, author of The Emmy's told USA Today: "Humiliation television is a huge phenomenon globally and what we're seeing here is just the beginning."

Melisa Caldwell of the Parents Television Council agreed and said network bosses have not quite plumbed the depths with Joe Millionaire.

That accolade she awards to an up coming show called Married By America with audience members playing matchmaker.

The series is another Fox TV production.

See also:

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