‘Truth’ Is, Bad Reviews Are Good

Jan 27, 2008  •  Post A Comment

To hear Fox President of Alternative Entertainment Mike Darnell tell it, the debut of his game show “The Moment of Truth” last week went off precisely according to plan: Record-setting ratings and terrible reviews.
“Moment” retained the largest-ever audience coming out of “American Idol” (a 10.2 Nielsen Media Research rating among adults 18 to 49) and was the highest-rated series premiere since last February’s debut of Mr. Darnell’s previous post-“Idol” game show, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”
Critics were apocalyptically negative: The show was called “ultrasleazy” and “a feel-bad hour devoted to screwing up relationships,” and host Mark L. Walberg was dubbed “a cherubic little character assassin.”
“They thought [“Moment”] was everything from boring, to vile, to boring and vile,” Mr. Darnell said. “But generally speaking, if you have a critically acclaimed reality show, it’s not a big hit. … I don’t think most critics would say they represent regular people. [“Moment”] did not get good reviews, and I would have thought I had done something wrong if it did.”
Unless, of course, the critics represent the average viewer better than Mr. Darnell suspects and the ratings plummet.
This week, the show returns for a second round. Although “Moment” benefited enormously from its “Idol” lead-in, the show’s viewership also was driven by viewer curiosity about its intriguing premise. With that curiosity satisfied, it’s anybody’s guess whether the show will continue to thrive on lie-detector drama alone.
Mr. Darnell allowed that at least one aspect, the show’s pacing, should be improved.
“It’s always been a semi-issue with the show because you have the pauses between the revelation and [the lie-detector result],” he said. “You’ve got to have that to watch the reaction of the friends and family. But we’re going to try to quicken the pace a little bit.”
To maintain the “Moment” momentum, Fox has launched an online play-along game and plans to air a special football-themed promotional spot during the Super Bowl.
Plus, there’s always guerrilla headline-making promotional tactics. “Moment” creator and executive producer Howard Schultz sent a letter to Roger Clemens last week asking the baseball star to appear on the show to answer questions about his alleged steroid use.
“Mike Wallace asked you in your [“60 Minutes”] interview if you would be willing to take a polygraph examination in an effort to settle the matter,” Mr. Schultz wrote. “This show could let the world know that you are an incredibly courageous person as well to clear your name in front of a nationwide audience.”
As far as Fox’s other highly rated reality program, “American Idol,” the good news for the network is that the show’s ratings haven’t dropped any further compared to last season. Recent episodes were down about 12% from last year, about the same as the headline-making premiere week drop.


  1. Good ratings or not, the critics are pretty much in tune with reality on this one. Having a reality show that gets a lot of viewers because people feel almost compelled to watch isn’t something to be that proud of. If I climb on the roof of my house, cluck like a chicken while wearing a bright orange thong and throwing bananas, I’m sure I’d get attention. It would be a train wreck, and people would just have to watch to see if I would fall off the roof, get shot, or maybe even fly away. They’ve tried everything to come up with a show to beat American Idol and still failed. Only to come up with what they consider reasonable ratings and all for a stupid premise.

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