Fox reality fools gold diggers

'Joe' combines 'Bachelor,' 'Multi-Millionaire' elements

After months of top-secret shooting, Fox next month will take the wraps off of a reality series that poses a simple question: Who wants to marry a multimillionaire … who’s actually not even a millionaire?

Net and Rocket Science Prods. (“Temptation Island”) have quietly finished production on “Joe Millionaire,” a seven-episode series that combines elements of Fox’s controversial 2000 special “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?” with ABC’s red-hot relationship franchise “The Bachelor.”

Skein will bow Jan. 6 at 9 p.m., filling the timeslot vacated by “Girls Club.” Jean-Michel Michenaud and Chris Cowan are exec producers.

“In a way, we’re ripping the mask off the people (who sign up for shows like ‘The Bachelor’),” Fox reality topper Mike Darnell told Daily Variety. “We find out whether they’re really doing this for love.”

“Joe” features 20 single women who fly to France in order to win the affection of a handsome American they believe to be worth $50 million. The twist: The as-yet unidentified man is actually a construction worker with an annual income of $19,000.

“It’s the gold diggers and the ditch digger,” one Fox insider said.

Viewers will know from the start that the faux Joe is actually a blue-collar guy with no coin to his name. They’ll also watch as he undergoes a Pygmalion-like transformation from humble construction worker into someone who might pass for a multimillionaire.

The 20 women who participated in the show, however, are told Joe recently inherited $50 million and is looking for someone with whom he can share his wealth. Joe will maintain this ruse, though he’ll be honest with the women about every other aspect of his life, from education to past romances.

“All of his backstory is true, except for the money part,” Darnell said.

As in “Bachelor,” Joe will narrow down his potential mates each week, taking them on horseback rides through the French countryside near what the women believe is his chateau, or wining and dining them at the Eiffel Tower. Rather than hand his rejects roses, Joe will give losing women jewelry of escalating value.

Payoff comes in the finale episode, when the faux millionaire chooses the one woman with whom he wants to have a relationship. If the woman agrees to continue the relationship — Fox isn’t saying if a marriage proposal is involved — Joe is forced to come clean.

‘A spectacular show’

“In the end, he must reveal to her that he’s basically broke,” Darnell said. “We get to see if she still wants to be with him. It’s a spectacular show with a spectacular ending.”

Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman knows “Joe Millionaire” will have its critics, just as “Bachelor” has its detractors.

“It’ll cause some controversy and hopefully grab some viewers,” she said. “We just think it’s a great spin on these kinds of shows and reality TV in general.”

What “Joe Millionaire” won’t be is a regular part of Fox’s sked.

“We cannot duplicate this show. It’s a one-time-only thing,” Berman said.

Indeed, in order to ensure none of the women discovered Joe’s secret prematurely, Fox and Rocket Science produced the skein under a cloak of secrecy heavy even by the already paranoid standards of the reality TV world.

Under wraps

Less than a half-dozen Fox execs knew of the project’s existence. Skein was shot in France under the code name “The Big Choice” to further throw off competitors. Most of the production crew in France had no idea what they were really shooting, nor did a butler hired to serve as Joe’s assistant.

“We had to keep it unbelievably secret,” Darnell said. “If the participants knew (the twist), then you’re screwed. And if our competitors found out, the women in the show would have found out.”

While word did leak out about “Big Choice,” competitors were never certain about the details of the show, other than that it was relationship-oriented. News that Fox is developing an arranged-marriage skein (Daily Variety, Oct. 31) also may have thrown some off the scent.

Alex McLeod (“Trading Spaces”) will host “Joe Millionaire.”

McLeod and Cowan are repped by ICM.