Meet my "Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance"

Wed January 14, 2004 03:37 AM ET
By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It's been a year since the U.S. Fox television network shook off a ratings slump with help from a former underwear model posing as "Joe Millionaire".

Now the beleaguered News Corp-owned network and its new top executive, Gail Berman, are hoping to catch prime-time fire again, this time with the perfect anti-hunk -- "My Big Fat Obnoxious FiancÚ".

The six-part show, which makes its U.S. debut on January 19, centres on a young bride-to-be willing to endure a formal engagement and wedding -- with all the trimmings -- while betrothed to the world's biggest lout in order to win $1 million (540,000 pounds).

She gets the cash as long as she makes it to the altar and says "I do" without her family or any of the wedding guests stopping the ceremony to object.

Her friends and relatives believe they are merely taking part in the filming of a reality show about a wedding.

Along the way, awkward, exasperating moments abound as the 23-year-old schoolteacher, Randi, and her slovenly, uncouth fiancÚ slog their way through an engagement party, wedding planning meetings, introductions to best friends and family, a hen night and rehearsal dinner.

Adding to the social carnage of the proceedings, the show's "groom", Steve, comes with a brood of relatives who are every bit as raucous and rude as him.

The bride's family has no idea that the whole matrimonial enterprise is a sham being played out for money. But the joke also is on Randi, who thinks that Steve, like herself, is a reality show contestant duping his loved ones on national TV.

As part of the show's con-within-a-con twist, Steve and his TV kin are actually professional actors, all deliberately doing their utmost to shock the sensibilities of the bride's clan.

'VERY DIFFICULT' FOR FAMILY

The series marks the latest creation from Fox reality TV guru Mike Darnell, the man behind last year's "Joe Millionaire", the more recent hit "The Simple Life" and the highly rated but controversial Fox special from the year 2000, "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?".

He said of all the reality programmes he's done, "FiancÚ" proved the most intense and was "the closest we've ever come to not completing a television show".

"The family's reaction is more than we ever could have imagined that it would be," Darnell told Reuters. "It was very difficult for them, and that made it extraordinarily difficult for her...It's hysterical."

The show's title pays homage to the hit movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". But "FiancÚ" really belongs to a growing pantheon of TV fare that derives its entertainment value from treating viewers to the spectacle of seemingly ordinary people exposing their baser instincts for mates and money.

FOX LOOKING FOR A LIFT

The question is whether "FiancÚ" can do for Fox this year what was accomplished last January by "Joe Millionaire", in which a group of single young women competed for the affections of a good-looking builder and one-time model posing as the heir to a fortune.

Combined with the January 2003 return of summer talent show hit "American Idol", "Joe Millionaire" helped transform Fox's ratings fortunes from dismal to dazzling in the second half of last season.

The triumph was short-lived. Despite a strong showing for its telecasts of the major league baseball play-offs and the success of its steamy new drama "The O.C.", Fox found itself faltering again at the outset of the current season.

"American Juniors", a kiddie edition of "American Idol", flopped over the summer. A new porn-themed drama of forbidden romance, "Skin", and a new sitcom, "Luis", were both pulled because of low ratings.

One of Fox's biggest setbacks was the return of "Joe Millionaire", which floundered in its second incarnation.

Now Fox is banking on "FiancÚ" and a third grown-up edition of "American Idol", which premieres the same night, to kick-start its prime-time line up.

Their success is especially important to Berman, who as entertainment president for Fox Broadcasting, becomes the network's top executive with the recently announced departure of Fox Television Entertainment Group Chairman Sandy Grushow.