Fox suits, who vowed that "Joe Millionaire" was a once-only thing that they absolutely, positively could not and would not do again, announced yesterday that they will broadcast a second edition of the reality series, possibly as soon as the fall.
But that's the way it is with crack. Especially when a big snort, like "Joe Millionaire," takes your network from fourth place to its first-ever sweeps victory in the race for young viewers.
Fox programming chief Gail Berman would not explain how Fox expected to mount a second edition of the series, in which 20 women competed for the affections of a hunky $19,000-a-year construction worker they had been misled to believe was heir to a $50 million estate.
"I can't go into any detail," Berman told TV critics during a conference call to discuss the network's first-ever February ratings derby win.
"We have cracked the way to do it."
Fox TV Entertainment Group Chairman Sandy Grushow noted that while "it can't be done identically for all the obvious reasons, the alternative [programming] team has come up with the notion that will carry virtually all the same values forward, and we're optimistic it will perform extremely well when it returns."
Responded the critic who had asked the question: "Did you just use the word 'values'?"
The finale of "Joe Millionaire" clocked 40 million viewers for Fox last week; it was the highest rated telecast, aside from post-Super Bowl shows, among 18-to-49-year-olds since the final episode of the first "Survivor" in the summer of 2000. That is why other networks are also racing to clone the show.
NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker told TV critics yesterday during his sweeps phone call that he's actively looking for a relationship reality series, and during ABC's phone call, programming chief Susan Lyne announced a fourth edition of "The Bachelor" in which the guy who gets to pick from among 20 women is "heir to a . . . 'Dynasty'-like family."
Berman dismissed critics' suggestion that the slew of pick-a-mate series that have not ended with actual relationships -- including "Joe Millionaire" and the two "Bachelors" to date -- would eventually turn viewers against the genre. (At the end of the first "Joe Millionaire," when the happy couple were reunited after three months apart, suave construction worker Evan Marriott suggested to his girl of choice, Zora Andrich, that they get together for a beer sometime.)
"I think the audience . . . is going along for the ride," Berman said. "I don't think they're preoccupied with the aftermath."
CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, who held his phone conference Monday to celebrate his network's sweeps win among viewers of all ages, called this month's ratings race "the craziest sweeps in the history of television." That's the best way to describe the pile-on of Michael Jackson programs and a reality series tsunami that included not only "Joe Millionaire" but also "The Bachelorette," "Are You Hot?" "I'm a Celebrity -- Get Me Out of Here!," "Star Search" and the sixth edition of "Survivor."
Moonves' sentiments were echoed yesterday by most of his competitors.
"February sweeps ends tonight and all I can say is 'thank God!' " Zucker said. NBC had won 11 consecutive sweeps in the coveted 18-to-49 demographic before losing this February to Fox. Zucker called this sweeps "nutty," "crazy" and "a little bit of a frenzy."
ABC Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun, whose network finished fourth, called the ratings period "wild and woolly."
But Grushow insisted those descriptions did not apply to Fox, which he said made only one scheduling change during the sweeps -- the addition of "The Michael Jackson Interview: The Footage You Were Never Meant to See" -- Jackson's rebuttal to ABC News's February sweeps documentary "Living With Michael Jackson." Fox's schedule during the sweeps is essentially the same as the one for the remainder of the TV season, Grushow said, joking that if his counterparts at the other networks think February was "ridiculous or crazy or nutty, they ought to be ready for ridiculous or crazy months of March, April and May."
Zucker, one of the more entertaining execs in the TV industry, may have lost the sweeps to Fox, but he had fun messing with them during his Q&A phoner. He began by complimenting Fox reality guru Mike Darnell for coming up with "Joe Millionaire" and Fox's other reality ratings monster, "American Idol," with which the network had won the sweeps crown.
Doing so made Berman and Grushow look bad when they neglected to even mention Darnell during their phone call immediately after. Grushow kicked off the call by paying tribute to Berman and her "team" for the "incredible job" they'd done turning the network around. Berman responded by telling Grushow that "today the whole network salutes you."
When time was running out on Fox's call, one critic finally noted "you haven't mentioned Mike Darnell," which prompted Berman to assure critics that "Mike is one of the great network executives" and that Fox "salutes Mike on a daily basis" but that it was important to "reinforce" the notion that the win was a team effort, including scheduling and "our quality programming."
Score one for Zucker.
Zucker also tweaked Fox execs when he suggested that Fox might beat his network for the entire television season among 18-to-49-year-olds. Fox suits claim he said this so that when NBC, which leads in the demo for the season, wins another season, Zucker will look like a hero.
"Jeff's been out there telling everybody that will listen that we're going to win," Grushow responded. "We're going to allow him to be the guy who makes predictions and we're just going to stay focused on doing the best job we can. Things will end the way they end."