We have reached the point in this strike-ravaged TV season which can now be officially declared The Moment of Truth.
That’s the title of a new Fox reality game show that EW.com describes as “…one of those is-it-genius-or-is-it-the-end-of-Western-Civilization? masterpieces.” It begins next Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 9 p.m. on Fox. (Show rich CTV has it two hours earlier at 7 p.m. )
You’ve probably already seen the promos, airing incessantly during American Idol. This is the show where contestants are strapped to a lie detector and asked a series of increasingly personal questions by a polygraph expert. As long as they answer the questions honestly, they can win up to $500,000.
Sounds simple enough, until you hear the questions. They start off harmlessly: “Have you ever parked in a handicapped spot?” “Have you ever made fun of your friends behind their backs?” Then they get pretty tough: “Have you ever thought that your parents would be better off if they were divorced?” “Is there a part of your husband’s body that repulses you?” “At your current job, have you ever touched a female co-worker inappropriately?”
Making it all the tougher is the fact that the participants parents, spouse and co-workers are right out in front, sometimes brought up on stage by host Mark L. Walberg (Temptation Island) to ask these very questions. On the teasingly sensational preview reel sent to critics, one father stands in front of his shocked-to-see-him, teary-eyed son and asks, “Will you forgive me for not being more present in your life?”
The show, then, is all about seeing people squirm, stammer and sweat. It is already a hit in the UK , where it is hosted by none other than tabloid TV icon Jerry Springer. It is also popular in counties as diverse as Columbia , France, Italy and Spain.
Seems lying, cheating and squirming is universal. Who knew?
Howard Schultz knew. He’s the creator and executive producer of The Moment of Truth. In a Fox conference call last Friday, he described how the idea came to him while he was on a treadmill at the gym. “I was just getting sick and tired of how much lying is going on around the world,” says Schultz, who must have been tuned to U.S. presidential primary election coverage at the time. He talked about how we seem to live in a perpetual spin zone. “You don’t even know who to trust anymore because everything just sounds like a bunch of BS.”
Schultz, who has been developing this idea for five or six years, said he wanted to produce a show that got to the truth. “I’m a firm believer in [the saying that] the truth shall set us free.”
The truth is that Schultz was also responsible for the original Extreme Makeover, a show critics assailed for carving up individuals through plastic surgery in the name of mass entertainment.
Those willing participants, Schultz would argue, simply wanted to overcome physical abnormalities in order to live a better life. What possesses people to go on The Moment of Truth? Besides a desire to get on television and win a lot of money, Schultz says some people are just convinced they have either nothing to hide or that, if they do, they “won’t get caught and they can get it by us.”
Schultz admits he’d squirm if he was on this show’s hot seat. He says he was watching a taping of the show in the control room with his wife when a question came up: “Is your spouse the best lover you ever had?” “I suddenly turned to her and said, ‘Well?’” Schultz says his wife never really answered the question. He confessed that the memory of one old flame might have caused him to try to lie his way out of a corner.
He’s probably counting on most players having the same moment of doubt or guilt. Otherwise, this could be a pretty easy TV payday. In what other game show do you already know all the answers to all the questions?
Walberg feels there’s another hurdle: some contestants might think they are telling the truth but they’re not. “There are certain subjective things that we’re not really sure what’s true,” he suggests. “I’m sure there are plenty of truths that I have been denying myself over the years.”
Slipping up in this way will be costly on this show. One lie and all your winnings disappear. Contestants can walk away at anytime, if they’ve won $1000 or $100,000.
Schultz isn’t worried about the show stirring up controversy—in fact, he’s counting on it. “The really good stuff lies on the other side of the envelope,” he says.
At the same time, he says he’s “not here to destroy people—that’s not the goal. I’m here to say, if you’re an honest person, would you like to play a game? Can you be honest 21 times in a row? That’s the game.”
The show does have boundaries. There are no questions which pertain to minors. A parent or a divorced parent, for example, would never be asked if he or she prefers one child over another. Schultz says he is also bound by the federal broadcast regulator to steer clear of graphic sexual inquisitions. “Aside from that,” he says, he’s “basically willing to go anywhere.”
Despite the pitch that the show is really just a quest for truth, look for feelings to be hurt and tears to be shed. Seems to work every week on American Idol.
What he’s about is creating Fox’s next big hit. “It’s going to open up a dialogue in the homes across America ,” he feels, “because you can’t watch this show and not ask those questions of yourself.”
Would he ever consider a celebrity version of this show? Already working on it, says Schultz. His dream “get” for the hot seat? Who else but pitching ace Roger Clemens. “Mike Wallace asked if he would take a polygraph. I sure would like to be the one to give it to him.”