TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES: The reviews were pretty scathing – “a slow-paced bore ... the slowest game show on record,” said the New York Post – but it didn’t matter, because Fox’s latest reality monster lumbered ashore last week and made the most impressive debut this season, helped largely by a lead-in of 27 million Idol viewers on Wednesday night.
The Moment Of Truth is a stark little piece of work – more stripped down even than Who Wants To Be A Millionaire or The Weakest Link – where contestants hit the stage after taking a polygraph test to see if their answer to a potentially embarrassing question is confirmed by the machine. Their potential mortification is witnessed not only by a studio audience and millions of viewers, but a trio of friends and family who might be affected by the potential revelations – such as the woman who watched as her personal trainer husband was forced to admit that he’d let his hands wander a bit more than was appropriate on comely female clients.
There’s money involved, of course – up to half a million bucks for those blessed with perfect self-knowledge and integrity, or a sociopath’s ability to lie deeply and convincingly – but the appeal is watching another human being undergo emotional strappado on TV, which would explain why the show scored really big with young folk: “One-third of all teens watching TV in the country between 9 and 10 Wednesday night were glued to MOT,” according to the indispensable Lisa de Moraes of the Washington Post.
The New York Times called the show “a pseudo-psychological trial by ordeal” and broke with the damning critical chorus by calling it “hypnotic,” but noted that the premiere episode was quite tame compared to foreign versions of the show, which was developed for the U.S. market by Fox’s reality czar Mike Darnell. Interviewed by James Hibberd of TV Week magazine, Darnell said that he was relieved when he read the critical drubbing.
“They thought it was everything from boring, to vile, to boring and vile,” 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.”
Darnell also said that they intentionally showed a milder episode for the debut – “I didn’t want people from middle America to freak out coming out of ‘American Idol.” – and that the show will get a lot more brisk and raw as the season progresses and the show moves to an 8 pm slot in March. Quick to capitalize on the ratings and publicity after the debut, the show’s producers sent an invitation to former New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens to clear his name on the show, according to TMZ.com. “This show could let the world know that you are an incredibly courageous person, as well as to clear your name in front of a nationwide audience, all in the name of charity.” Or you could look like a scumbag, like the dude whose wife hates him now for groping women while they’re doing lat pull-downs. Either way, it’s all good.