Fox pulls reality trick with six-seg skein
HOLLYWOOD — The network and producers behind “Joe Millionaire” are getting ready to pull what they hope will go down as the most elaborate practical joke yet in the history of reality TV.
After months of secrecy, Fox has wrapped production on “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance,” an hourlong hybrid reality-scripted skein that mixes elements of “Average Joe,” “Joe Schmo” and “Trista and Ryan’s Wedding.”
Rocket Science Laboratories is producing the six-episode skein, which is set to bow Monday, Jan. 19, at 9 p.m. — immediately following the third-season premiere of “American Idol.” Chris Cowan and Jean-Michel Michenaud are exec producers, with Ray Guiliani on board as co-exec producer.
Skein’s premise starts with producers enlisting “an unsuspecting woman who knew she was going to be on a reality show,” said Fox alternative titan Mike Darnell. Her mission: Convince her friends and family that she met a man on a reality show, fell madly in love with him and is planning a quickie wedding in the next few weeks.
Worth half a mil
Woman — a 23-year-old first-grade teacher from Scottsdale, Ariz., named Randi — is told her family will be paid $500,000 if she pulls off the lie and makes it through the entire fake wedding process without revealing the secret.
And then the real twists kick in.
The woman is shown several good-looking men before she agrees to the show, leading her to think she’ll be landing a typical reality hunk.
“Instead, it’s this big, fat obnoxious guy,” Darnell said, referring to the show’s “Average Joe”-style switcheroo.
But wait, there’s more.
“She also doesn’t know that the fiance’s job is to be the most awful man he can be and to make the wedding as awful as possible,” Darnell added.
Indeed, unbeknownst to the woman at the show’s center, Fox and Rocket Science hired an actor — named Steve on the show — to play the part of a fiance from hell. Randi thinks Steve is just another reality-show contestant conning his family for coin; instead, he’s a thesp charged with constantly testing the patience of Randi and her family with his increasingly outrageous behavior.
Rather than simply pull the wool over her family’s eyes, the fake bride must endure the embarrassment and torture of pretending to be in love with a complete cad.
Skein will document all the usual pre-wedding events, from engagement party to rehearsal dinner.
A la Spike TV’s “Joe Schmo Show,” producers even enlisted actors to play the fake groom’s fake dysfunctional family. Steve and his clan use their improv skills to try to fool all involved.
“I believe it’s the most elaborate hoax ever on reality TV,” Darnell said. “Joe Millionaire” was “one lie. This is 50 lies and much bigger stakes.”
In addition to the obvious comedic aspects — “It’s the horrible side of Trista and Ryan,” Darnell said — “Obnoxious Fiance” also will play as a drama as viewers tune in to see whether the fake bride can pull off her lie, and how she’ll react when it’s revealed the producers have been lying to her as well.
“The stakes are so much bigger than we imagined,” Darnell said. “Her family believes this is the guy she loves and is going to marry. They’re appalled and freaked out and crazy over it. … The emotions are just incredible. And the ending is unbelievable.
“We ended up getting some of the funniest and most dramatic TV I’ve ever done,” he added.
Darnell said the idea for the show was greenlit late last summer, with the top-secret production taking place somewhere in California over the past month. Production wrapped last week, which means the net and producers are crashing to get the show on air in under a month’s time.
Indeed, on Dec. 24, Darnell and Fox’s promo staff were still working on the first spots for the show, which began airing over the weekend during NFL coverage. Teaser spots hyping “the next big thing in reality” aired earlier last week.
Fox used a similar promo playbook a year ago for “Joe Millionaire,” producing the show in secret and then hyping the surprise skein relentlessly during post-season football, to great effect (Daily Variety, Dec. 2, 2002).
“Obnoxious Fiance” expects to have the added support of a huge lead-in from the “American Idol” preem.
Darnell declined to say whether Fox has produced more than one edition of “Obnoxious Wedding,” thus hopefully avoiding a “Joe Millionaire 2” scenario.
In order to pull off a second edition of the latter skein, producers had to film the sequel overseas, resulting in a culture clash some critics believed doomed the low-rated “J2.” NBC shot both “Average Joe” and its sequel back-to-back — though it’s too soon to say if “AJ2” will work as well as the original.
ICM-repped Rocket Science inked a seven-figure multiyear overall deal with Fox last summer (Daily Variety, July 10). Shingle produced both installments of “Joe Millionaire” and all three editions of “Temptation Island.”
Claudia DiFolco from Fox’s “Anything for Love” will host “Obnoxious Fiance.”