As Fox prepares to unveil its controversial Temptation Island, the first in a new wave of reality TV shows, one thing is clear: The success of CBS's Survivor series has forced networks to add heat to the fledgling genre — even if it means reneging on past promises.
Fox TV execs had some of that heat reflected back at them Sunday, when TV critics took them to task for green-lighting Temptation Island, a series that could hover dangerously close to the scandalous terrain of Fox's recent public relations nightmare, Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire.
Set to premiere Wednesday at 9 pm, Temptation is no Gilligan's Island. The series takes four unmarried couples to a tropical location, where 26 seductive single types — including a former Playboy model — are gathered to challenge the will of the couples.
Jumping Into Reality The two-hour Survivor finale on CBS drew an audience of nearly 52 million — the most viewers ever for a summer series. As the other networks were forced to view the eye network's success from the sidelines, they learned a valuable lesson: jump into the reality game.
UPN will air Chains of Love, a twisted dating game show that entails one woman being chained to four men (NBC passed on the series, due to creative conflicts with the show's producer). Fox currently has another series in the works called Love Cruise, which has a sort of Love Boat-meets-Real WorldmeetsSurvivor premise. Tuesday, ABC will air its reality-lite program, The Mole, involving a group of people who must find the saboteur in their midst.
Of course, CBS will unveil the granddaddy of them all after the Super Bowl Jan. 28. The Survivor sequel, Survivor: The Australian Outback, will run head to head with NBC's popular Friends sitcom.
The Darva Controversy
Before the Survivor phenomenon, however, Fox was burned by the highly rated but controversial Millionaire. That show met scandal when bride Darva Conger ended up annulling her live TV marriage to Rick Rockwell after it was discovered that a former partner of Rockwell's had a restraining order against him. After that incident, Fox said it would leave the reality genre.
But now TV critics question the network's commitment to its decision. Many writers who gathered to preview Fox's new shows said Temptation Island looks like the network has gone back to its old, When Animals Attack-type ways.
Fox heads declined to provide details about the series, although they confirmed that each of the show's participants was screened in advance for sexually transmitted diseases. According to The Associated Press and The New York Times, Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group, refused to comment on whether Fox had given condoms to its tropical contestants.
"Clearly this company in the past year has principally focused on the creation of scripted entertainment shows," said Grushow. "[But] something happened this summer. A little show called Survivor came along and really turned the network television landscape on its ear."
Grushow said Fox needed to compete in the genre. "The audience has spoken, and they've demonstrated they have a huge appetite for this kind of programming," he said. "We work in a dynamic business. Things change."
Reuters contributed to this story.