Fox Feels Like 50 Million Bucks About Joe
Faux-millionaire show a smash; so are five other reality debuts last week
By Paige Albiniak -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/12/2003 7:00:00 PM
Reality TV shows no signs of slowing after four broadcast networks last week premiered six reality shows, all to smash ratings.
While each of the shows did well, the award for biggest buzz goes to Fox's Joe Millionaire. The show premiered to the biggest ratings in total viewers and adults 18-49 that Fox has seen on a Monday night in eight years. By the end of the hour, 20.2 million viewers had tuned in to watch construction worker Evan Marriott hand out pearl necklaces to the 12 lucky ladies he would like to get to know better.
Fox's Joe, who is supposedly trying to find his true love out of 20 women who think he's a millionaire, was all over the press last week as reporters tried to figure out if the poor guy masquerading as a rich guy was really a rich guy pretending to be poor, pretending to be rich. Whatever his financial status, Joe Millionaire broke the bank for Fox, which could use it after the network's scripted shows have struggled through the fall season.
"This show performed much bigger than my expectations," said Mike Darnell, executive vice president of alternative programming and specials for Fox. "I thought it was a good, clever concept and that people would come, but not like this. We've never had an audience come at this level and no other reality show has either."
The only problem with Joe Millionaire, admits Darnell, is that it's a concept that will only work once. "You'd have to cast it in Outer Mongolia or something," he said. "Today it feels like fully half the world's population knows about the show."
Now Fox will hold it breath to see if the second iteration of American Idol will live up to the hype when it premieres on Jan. 21 and 22.
If it doesn't, Darnell has several ideas up his sleeve. Coming in the next three weeks is Man Vs. Beast (working title), which will pit people against animals in various contests. The concept is about as weird as it sounds—in one, an elephant will match its strength against 40 "little people" to try to pull a plane 75 feet. In another, the world's hot-dog eating champion will try to out-eat a bear. And in a third, a human sprinter will race against a giraffe and a zebra. Unclear is whether a tiger will chase the three and eat the slowest.
Another Fox special in the can is Bridezilla, which follows brides around as they prepare their weddings and get "totally out of control" about the details, said Darnell. Finally, Fox will bring television audiences what they've always wanted to see: a doggie beauty pageant, featuring dogs in talent and evening gown competitions.
The network also is readying a reality series called Married By America, due in March. In Married, viewers will select two people from a larger group who will then get engaged and move into a house together. At the end of the show, they will decide if they want to get married.
With High School Reunion, created and produced by Mike Fleiss of ABC's The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, The WB premiered its first reality show since it aired Popstars and Popstars II in spring and fall 2001. High School Reunion brought together classmates from Oak Park and River Forest High's 1992 graduating class for a reunion in Maui, Hawaii, and set all sorts of records for the network.
Airing on Sundays at 9 p.m. and again on Thursdays at 8 p.m., Reunion scored The WB's best ratings ever for a Sunday 9 p.m. premiere in viewers, persons 12-34, women 12-34, adults 18-34 and women 18-34. The show also tied the network's record for highest time-period performance in men 18-34, adults 18-49, women 18-49 and men 18-49. It delivered the second-highest ratings ever for the network in the time period among persons 12-34 and men 18-49, and the third-highest ratings in the time period among viewers, adults 18-34 and adults 18-49.
Finally, Reunion performed especially well with women, improving its Sunday time period over last year by 89% in women 12-34, 106% in women 18-34 and 108% in women 18-49.
Finding the right high school with the right people wasn't easy, said Keith Cox, senior vice president of alternative programming for The WB.
"Mike Fleiss and his producers went around and looked at so many different high schools," Cox said. "After doing tons of research, they whittled it down to this Chicago-based school that had the best stories," as well as a good number of classmates who remain single—all the better for sexual tension and ratings.
Last Thursday night, The WB aired a second reality show: The Surreal Life, featuring celebrities such as M.C. Hammer, Emmanuel Lewis and Corey Feldman living in a house together for ten days. Buzz on the program had been building steadily, and the show held up well against tough Thursday night competition. Based on Nielsen fast nationals, The Surreal Life delivered the best ratings for The WB in the time period since October 2001. For the night, The WB averaged a 3.8 rating and a 5 share for High SchoolReunion and The Surreal Life.
After the success of ABC's The Bachelor, the network premiered two new reality skeins last Wednesday: The Bachelorette at 9 p.m. and Celebrity Mole at 10 p.m.
The Bachelorette —starring the runner-up from The Bachelor's first go-round, Trista Rehn—gave ABC its largest audience in more than 2 1/2 years, with the exception of the last Bachelor's November finale. The Bachelorette averaged 17.4 million viewers and earned an 8.4 rating/20 share in adults 18-49, winning the night in the category and soundly beating an original episode of NBC's The West Wing.
Following The Bachelorette, Celebrity Mole Hawaii, produced by Stone Stanley, lost significant audience to NBC's Law and Order, with 10.7 million viewers and a 5.2 rating/14 share in adults 18-49. Still, the show delivered ABC's largest audience in the time slot in more than a year and the highest 18-34 and 18-49 ratings in the slot in more than 2 1/2 years.
"I think there is clearly a very big appetite for this kind of programming, but I can't explain it," said Andrea Wong, ABC senior vice president of alternative series and specials. "We are coming up with more fun and more innovative concepts, and I do think the quality of unscripted programming is pretty great."
Wong also pointed out that younger people have been raised on reality shows such as MTV's Real World and Road Rules, so they have grown to expect it. Although reality shows don't last long enough to be syndicated, ABC is doubly benefiting from the network's growing library of reality programming by repurposing The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and Celebrity Mole Hawaii on ABC Family.
And some networks are realizing that television has done some of these reality shows before they had a name for them. Last Wednesday at 8 p.m., CBS premiered the revival of Ed McMahon's Star Search, although in this rendition the talent competition show is hosted by former late-night host Arsenio Hall. The story for Star Search was much the same, with the show winning the time period for the first time this season for CBS in viewers, households and all the key adult demographics.
Star Search was CBS's highest-rated program in the time period since last January in households, last September in viewers, September 2000 in adults 18-34 and October 2000 in adults 18-49 and 25-54.
"The success of reality is good for everyone," Wong said. "Most people in the reality community would tell you that when one reality show does well, it bodes well for them too."
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