All the Young Dudes Tune In for 'MOT,' the Hoopla

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, January 25, 2008

Water pressure plunged Wednesday at 10 p.m. across the country, as more than 23 million people leapt into showers to clean off the filth after watching the unveiling of Fox's "The Moment of Truth."

That's the biggest audience yet for a series unveiling this season, shattering the record held only briefly by Fox's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" with its far fewer 18.4 million viewers.

Both shows debuted this month in the teeth of the writers' strike, which certainly has brought the Fox network to its knees.

You have to go back to, say, the "Desperate Housewives" premiere in fall '04 or the "CSI: Miami" opener in fall '02 to get premiere numbers like these; "Housewives" started with about 22 million tuned in and "CSI: Miami" with 23 million.

Mark L. Walberg, who hosts "MOT," now is officially the biggest new deal in the TV firmament. In the show, he asks people, who have been selected based on their lack of the self-respect gene, a series of increasingly uncomfortable personal questions. Family members and friends sit onstage with them and watch.

The contestants have been asked these same questions, and more, before appearing on the show, strapped to a lie detector. After answering each question on the broadcast, a Giant Disembodied Hostess Voice says, "That Answer Is [longish pause intended for dramatic effect] T rue !" Or False -- whatev.

The "MOT" audience is not quite the crowd that tuned in almost exactly one year ago for the unveiling of the Fox reality series "Do You Want to Be Humiliated by Precocious 10-Year-Old-Actors Posing as Mensa Moppets?" which, like "MOT," opened immediately after an episode of the reality ratings monster "American Idol." The first episode of that moppets show, a.k.a. "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?," attracted nearly 27 million viewers.

But while "MOT" muddled through with an "American Idol" lead-in of only 27 million, "5th Grader" enjoyed an "Idol" lead-in of nearly 31 million.

"MOT" actually hung on to a bigger percentage of its "Idol" lead-in audience. And, even more impressive/frightening, "Moment of Truth" actually did better among 18-to-34-year-olds and teens than its "Idol" lead-in. More accurately, the show did better than its "Idol" lead-in among teenage and 18-to-34-year-old guys. One-third of all teens watching TV in the country between 9 and 10 Wednesday night were glued to "MOT."

It remains to be seen whether the guys will be back for another episode, given the groin-kicking the show's very first contestant received on the premiere episode. That contestant, a football player turned personal trainer, with his pretty blond wife in tow, sailed through the early, easy "have you ever picked your nose?"-caliber embarrassing questions.

But he blew his shot at the absurdly puny half-million-dollar pot when asked if he'd ever touched a female client more than was required of him in his capacity as a trainer.

"No," he said.

"That Answer Is [wait for it] False !" the Giant Disembodied Hostess Voice said. Needless to say, after that the guy's wife only let him kiss her on the cheek when he was told to go mingle with her. Sadly, unlike, say, NBC's "The Apprentice," "Moment of Truth" does not include a post-booting talk-to-the-camera opportunity for contestants or their loved ones.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company