The Moment of Truth

Remember the cheerful "This Is Your Life?" Fox's "The Moment of Truth" is its calculated antithesis -- a feel-bad hour devoted to screwing up relationships rather than celebrating them, which actually isn't as much fun as that sounds.

Remember the cheerful “This Is Your Life?” Fox’s “The Moment of Truth” is its calculated antithesis — a feel-bad hour devoted to screwing up relationships rather than celebrating them, which actually isn’t as much fun as that sounds. For starters, the personal revelations are already daytime TV staples, and the show employs a logistical cheat that, given any thought, makes the circumstances slightly less squirmy. Still, inasmuch as the series must cost about $1.89 to produce, the key truth is it won’t need the big ratings that an “American Idol” push provided Wednesday to maintain a place in Fox’s primetime rotation.

Based on the promotion, the network (that is, reality kingpin Mike Darnell) clearly hoped critics would be thoroughly indignant about the show, assisting in the PR campaign by labeling it another Fox-visited blight upon humanity. Well, hate to disappoint the gang over there, but it really isn’t all that objectionable to an audience weaned on “Jerry Springer” and Maury Povich’s paternity tests, which are at its genealogical core.

At the heart of “Truth,” after all, is the fact that the contestants knew precisely what they were getting into — and, indeed, were asked the questions that are supposed to flummox them in advance when the lie-detector test was administered. In other words, the subjects raised aren’t entirely out of left field.

Less a game than a daytime expose, participants sit across from host Mark L. Walberg in colorful Ikea-like chairs, trying to look embarrassed as a trio of family and/or friends watch them confess to indiscretions large and small. A disembodied female voice pronounces the responses “True,” with one false reply to any of the questions halting their dramatic, 21-query ascent (complete with heavy musical scoring) toward $500,000.

The topics grow progressively more intrusive, from “Have you hit someone else’s car and not left a note?” to “Are you a compulsive gambler?” or “Have you delayed having kids because you’re not sure how long you’ll be with your wife?” Inasmuch as there’s no skill involved, the only real goal is to stir discomfort, strain relationships and maximize the humiliation factor — milking the unease (which is where Walberg earns his check) as long as possible.

Based on the premiere numbers, the show is certainly off to positive start, but any enthusiasm should be tempered by the false positive that an “Idol” kickstart can provide.

One of the friends, though, inadvertently cut to the chase during the premiere, asking a contestant’s wife whether seriously damaging their marriage was really worth $100,000.

If you couldn’t guess the answer, then clearly, you’re not watching enough reality TV.

The Moment of Truth

Fox, Wed. Jan. 23, 9 p.m.

  • Production: Taped in Los Angeles by Lighthearted Entertainment. Executive producer, Howard Schultz; co-executive producers, Michael Maddocks, Laura Gelles; producer, Howard C. Bauer; director, Ron de Moraes.
  • Crew: Polygraph story producers, Steve Berkowitz, Billy Simmons; production design, John Gilles; lead editors, Jen Gillaspy, Chris Smith; music, William Kevin Anderson; casting, Sheila Conlin. RUNNING TIME: 60 MIN.
  • Cast: Host: Mark L. Walberg
  • Music By: