Fox Faces its
Moment of Truth
"I think the show is going to rock America. I think it's going to be talked
about around every water cooler and coffee pot in the country." – The Moment
of Truth creator Howard Schultz (AP, January 23, 2008)
Two weeks ago, this column stated that parents
seeking family-friendly programming safe for their children to watch “couldn’t
do better” than tune into the Fox network’s game shows.
Leave it to Fox to tarnish its own silver lining.
On January 23rd,
Fox showed the premiere episode of The Moment of Truth, a game show in
which contestants submit to being asked 21 deeply personal and potentially
hurtful questions -- in front of their family, friends,
co-workers, a studio audience and everyone in America who is watching. Before
the episode is filmed, contestants are hooked up to a polygraph machine and
asked 50 to 75 prying and prurient questions, along the lines of, "Have you ever
made a sexy video and uploaded it to the Internet?" or "Do you think you'll
still be married to your husband five years from now?" The questions
become increasingly personal and embarrassing as the game progresses.
Potentially, a contestant can win half a million dollars – if they continue to
submit to the questioning.
an era when The Jerry Springer Show continues to garner an audience, it
is perhaps not surprising that such a deeply offensive and inappropriate concept
would attract a few viewers. Less easy to understand is why a network charged
with using the publicly-owned airwaves “in the public interest” would want to
air a series designed to appeal only to an audience’s crudest and basest
Mike Darnell, Fox's President of "Alternative Entertainment," (and what an apt
description of The Moment of Truth that phrase is!) has
tried to make his program sound like a noble quest for Veritas, saying "”We’re
not out to destroy people…What I care about is it is causing a dialogue about
telling the truth.” As though some higher “truth” is being served by the sleazy
questions this show asks.
Well aware of the
program’s lascivious content, Fox refused to send copies of the show to critics
for review before it aired. But despite the questions of good taste this
behavior might’ve raised, The Moment of Truth was given Fox's best time
slot: directly following monster smash-hit American Idol.
Undaunted by The
Moment of Truth‘s emphasis on sex and adult material, Fox chose to air the
program in the post-Idol timeslot, knowing full well that the audience
for American Idol – an audience packed with families and children – would
likely stay tuned to see the network’s new game show immediately afterward.
Indeed, the series kept 94 percent of Idol’s audience.
Of course, Fox
executives deny that any harm could come to children in the audience as a result
of the show’s seamy questions. The Moment of Truth creator Howard Schultz
claims, “We won't ask any question that
in any way, shape or form can harm a minor child under the age of 18.
So we would not ask, for example, a question of the person in the chair, 'Have
you ever used your child as a pawn against your ex-spouse?' We wouldn't ask
questions where children could be watching and could be harmed by the question."
So what were some
of the “harmless” questions children in the viewing audience witnessed during
The Moment of Truth‘s premiere broadcast?
"As a football player, did you
ever sneak a peek at another player's privates while taking a shower?"
"Have you ever had sexual
relations with someone the very same day you met them?"
"Have you ever had a sexual
fantasy while attending Mass?"
“Have you ever padded your
underwear to look more well-endowed?" (After the contestant answered “Yes,”
the camera zoomed directly into his crotch.)
Nor were such
questions merely a first-episode tease, intended to attract new viewers. Future
episodes promise to ask questions like “Have you ever forced
yourself to throw up?”, “Did you ever think your spouse might be homosexual?”,
and “"Have you ever illegally smuggled something into this
Even those questions not overtly sexual in
nature, far from opening a “dialogue about telling the truth,” were clearly
intended to be deeply hurtful. Contestant Ty was asked if he has delayed having
children because he is not sure that Catia, his wife of two and a half years,
would be his “lifelong partner.” Upon Ty’s truthful answer of “yes,” Catia
Creator Schultz has
even admitted, "There was a young man on the show and his girlfriend was sitting
on the family and friends couch…On the drive home from the show, they broke up.
And he has spent the last month and a half trying to get her back."
Apparently, the breakup
of a relationship or marriage as a result of the program’s questions could not
possibly harm children.
“I will not be
watching that show with my wife in the same room, because the one thing I don’t
want my wife asking is, ‘What’s your answer to that question?’ ” –Fox
Entertainment Chairman Peter Liguori (TV Week, January 23. 2008)
game shows frequently show wives, parents and siblings playing the part of
advisers or cheerleaders for the contestants. On The Moment of Truth, the
loved ones are present to witness their relative’s humiliation...or to become
enraged by their revelations. Either way, injury to personal lives and
relationships is this program’s stock in trade.
program’s potential for harm became a fact in Colombia. There, a contestant on
that country’s version of The Moment of Truth confessed on the air that
she had hired someone to kill her husband – and
was rewarded with $25,000 as a
Colombian TV network pulled the show off the air after negative publicity and a
threat of legal action. Given Fox’s enthusiasm for odious programming, one must
wonder whether it was this event that actually encouraged Fox to pick up
and produce its own version of the show.
Tellingly, Darnell bought the concept for The Moment of Truth away from
NBC, after that network decided not to produce a game show with so salacious
(and potentially damaging) a concept. It says much that Fox is willing to
purchase, produce and show a program that other networks refused for reasons of
good taste, and which was actually pulled off TV in another country for hosting
a would-be murderer. Obviously, Darnell and Fox care less about “truth” than
they do about continuing Fox’s penchant for promoting puerile programming.
The actual game
competition on the program is dull, since the contestants know what questions
they may be asked and have ample time to decide not to compete. As a result,
The Moment of Truth is less a genuine competition than an excuse to air
smarmy sex remarks and sniggering innuendo. Every third or fourth question is
sexual in nature; and even the questions which aren’t explicitly sexual have
great potential to hurt feelings and damage the contestants’ relationships with
their spouses and family members.
The Moment of
Truth represents a new low even for the Fox network. Now, not even a simple
game show is safe from the crassly sexualized and hurtful content Fox gleefully
crams into its dramas, sitcoms and cartoons. With the corruption of the game
show format, Fox’s pursuit of prurient programming is complete...until the
network can think of some way to pervert football games.
“Fox is renowned
for callous programming. It was the network that put forth Who Wants to Marry
a Multimillionaire? and Temptation Island. But unfortunately, this
new series is not quite as innocently ill- intentioned…Ordinarily contestants
stand to lose their winnings. Losers on The Moment of Truth don’t go home
merely empty-handed; they could return to a home filled with hate.” -- TV
critic Alessandra Stanley (New York Times, January 25, 2008)
Caroline Schulenburg and Adam Shuler
contributed to this report.