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A Joe By Any Other Name

By now, it is almost a certainty that Joe Millionaire will return to the airwaves after the series wraps up its initial seven-episode run on Fox -- it's too successful not to come back. An estimated 18.6 million people watched the January 6 premiere, with 17.5 million of those viewers returning for another round of punishment last week. (Presumably, the other 1.1 million were still busy scrubbing vigorously to wash the shame away) More important to Fox, Joe Millionaire notched the highest-rated debut for any network series this year among viewers ages 18-to-34, which means two things: (1) Joe Millionaire is helping Fox make inroads with the most coveted demographic among advertisers and (2) the Founding Fathers probably knew what they were doing when they decided that you had to turn 35 before you could run for president.

Besides, the return of Joe Millionaire would irritate TV critics and social commentators beyond the limits of rational thought, and wouldn't it stand to figure that driving critics to the point of madness is behind a lot of the programming decisions at Fox?

Fox Executive: Say, TV critics, would it bother you terribly if we were to broadcast a two hours of winos and bums fighting over table scraps?

TV Critics: Of course it would!

Fox Executive: Hmmm... how about a reality show in which losing contestants were sold off to international slave rings?

TV Critics: Any decent person would be outraged!

Fox Executive: I see. So I guess you'd feel the same way about a special in which the privileged elite of society are given a chance to hunt the poor and disenfranchised for sport?

TV Critics: What kind of inhuman monster would delight in such a thing?

Fox Executive: Great! Because you'll be seeing all three on Fox this February, just in time for sweeps!

TV Critics: [Incoherent sputtering]

Fox Executive: Oh, and we're giving David E. Kelley another series.

TV Critics: Gaaaaaah! Our chests!

Of course, there's a major roadblock to bringing Joe Millionaire back for a second season of laying waste to the shared values and mores that served us perfectly well for the past millennium or so. And that difficulty is that while it's pretty easy to find 20 women equal parts gullible and delusional enough to believe that a handsome multimillionaire will be so desperate for love that he'd turn to a reality show to find his trophy bride the first time out the gate, it's a harder trick to pull off when everyone knows what you're up to. Pretend for a second that you're a demographically appealing single female, and Fox calls you up to invite you to hang out at a European chateau with a dashing young man. "Oh, and he's worth millions," the Fox people say in the same tone of voice they use to tell you how riveting this week's installment of Boston Public is going to be. I mean, no one is thick enough to fall for that trick twice -- not even Elimidate contestants.

So if Fox is going to keep this cash cow churning out a field's worth of bullshit, it's going to take some creativity, a bold innovation or two, a willingness not just to copy but to refine and maybe even perfect. Is Fox up to the task? Since this is the network that still airs an hour of Cops every week, I think we have the answer to our question.

And since the network may be short an idea or six, here's some possibilities for how I'd rejigger Joe Millionaire for a second go-round. Let's just call this my gift to Fox -- no need for millions of dollars in royalty payments or tearful phone calls of gratitude from Rupert Murdoch. The fully paid services of Joe Millionaire butler Paul Hogan around the Michaels homestead will be thanks enough.

Joe Something-aire: This time around, Fox isn't kidding when it says the lucky bachelor is worth 50 million -- it just isn't saying 50 million of what currency. Is it 50 million Australian dollars? Or 50 million Thai baht? Or perhaps a combination of pesos, krona, dinars and Swiss francs. Audiences will thrill as this new Joe Millionaire tries to find his soul mate and as his bride-to-be discovers if her would-be swain is worth 50 million British pounds (roughly $80,180,534.69 in U.S. currency) or 50 million South Korean Won (a not nearly so impressive $42,369.30). Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill stars as the butler.

Joe Paper Millionaire: There's no empty-skulled construction worker pulling a fast one over a score of young lovelies in this sequel. Instead, our latest millionaire bachelor amassed his wealth as a dot-com executive in the go-go nineties. Unfortunately, those millions are locked up in options our bachelor won't be able to exercise until the final episode -- so by the time he selects a bride, his fortune may not be worth the paper it's printed on. As the gold-digging beauties compete for our bachelor's love through a series of romantic challenges, a stock ticker at the bottom of the screen gives viewers a running update on his dwindling net worth. Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos hosts, as the American viewing public learns whether Joe Paper Millionaire finds true love or is reduced to selling his blood in order to afford groceries.

Jacques Millionaire: The lovelorn bachelor really is worth millions in this installment, but he also happens to be a boorish Frenchman in desperate need of a green card. Will Jacques be able to choke down his sneering contempt for Americans in order to live happily ever after as a permanent resident within our borders? Will the promise of a lavish lifestyle be enough to convince his potential paramours to overlook the churlish insults, the obsession with Jerry Lewis movies and particularly pungent cheeses, and the eccentric tendency to end dates by quickly surrendering and offering to collaborate with his conquerors? And just what is butler Mickey Rourke up to with that fifth of bourbon? All these answers and more will be revealed in the show's finale, featuring a surprise ending in which INS agents burst into the chateau and arrest the winner for violating U.S. immigration laws. Jacques cuts a deal with the feds for complete immunity in exchange for his testimony.

Joe Millionaire Outtakes: With just seven episodes, clearly Fox has more Joe Millionaire footage than it knows what to do with. So why not turn the repurposed footage into an entirely new series? Fox could show hour after hour of the 20 contestants saying catty things about one another, squealing about how they feel like they're living a fairy tale, and thinking up elaborate ways to fudge their age. There must be hours of footage of Evan Marriott doing captivating things like breathing through his open mouth and yammering on about his inner torment over living a lie. And Fox could probably wring two full episodes from all the unused Alex McLeod footage excised from the show after the network realized it had hired an emotionless block of oak to host the program.

Joe Mammary-illionaire: A young man inherits a chateau in the San Fernando Valley, which he soon discovers is home to a dozen surgically endowed blondes. With the help of butler Ron Jeremy, he works his way thr...

I'm sorry. This is the plot for the adult video knock-off of Joe Millionaire. Perhaps it would be best if we just move on.

"Mean" Joe Millionaire: Pittsburgh Steeler great "Mean" Joe Greene is a hall-of-fame defensive lineman with four Super Bowl rings -- and a lonely heart. Join him at his eastern Pennsylvania chateau, as 20 beauties compete for both his love and his vast personal fortune in a series of challenges that include hitting a tackling dummy, sacking Roger Staubach, and listening to Terry Bradshaw sing some of his favorite country tunes. Instead of giving jewels and necklaces to the women he wishes to keep around at the end of each episode, Mean Joe -- assisted by butler and former running back Rocky Bleier -- selects which ladies will remain at his chateau by flinging his jersey at them, á la the heart-warming Coca-Cola commercial from the 1970s. (To remain at the chateau, the ladies will then have to wash the jersey.) And the surprise twist at the end of the series? That's not "Mean" Joe Greene at all, but rather former Steeler safety Donnie Shell.

Joe Bazillionaire: Of course, Fox could do away with all these elaborate ruses and just lure in young, pulchritudinous females to participate in its reality programming by telling bald-faced lies so transparent even a child could see through the scam. Just grab some unemployed drifter, claim that he's worth a kajillion bazillion dollars which he found lying under the couch one day, hire some stuffy Brit to be his butler -- Richard E. Grant never seems to turn down work -- and see if anyone bites.

Past Joe Millionaire contestants -- who seemed to fall for this easily enough the first time around -- would be free to enter again.


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