Truly, TV's Tawdriest Hour

Fox's 'Moment of Truth' takes the game show to new abysses.

By Steve Burgess 29 Feb 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess is back from Asia and filing film and TV reviews for The Tyee again -- though one more postcard from Korea is still in the mail, we're told. Look for that on Monday.

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Mark Wahlberg, lie-detecting host.

Television is not like an elevator shaft. Fall down an elevator shaft and you know roughly when you'll hit the bottom. Television is different. You can fall forever as the bottom drops along with you. Particularly if your chosen shaft is the Fox Network.

New to the Fox stable: Moment of Truth, a game show where contestants are connected to lie detectors. With their families present they are then asked questions of a personal nature. Truthful answers earn escalating sums of money -- one false answer wipes out everything. The show has already been popular around the world, notably in Colombia. There the show was taken off the air after a woman confessed on air to having hired a hit man to try to kill her husband. Said the Fox Network: "Hello!"

Fox's version of the show started out just as they might have hoped. Frank Cleri sat and watched his wife Lauren answer questions about their marriage. Each truthful answer led to more cash. Forget about The Newlywed Game's "What-is-your-husband's-favourite-body-part"-type questions. Moment of Truth questions included: "Were you in love with another man on your wedding day?"

Naturally the answer to that one was yes -- earning the couple a possible $100,000! Money for you two crazy kids to start your lives together!

How true is 'Truth'?

It was clear that the Fox folks had done their homework. Some of the subsequent questions were asked by a surprise guest, the ex-boyfriend himself, and included, "Do you believe I am the man you should be married to?" And of course that old classic, "Have you had sexual relations with another man since your marriage?"

Yes and yes. Each truthful answer represented more cash. Excitement mounted (and apparently excitement was not alone).

The Fox Network has a way with TV. It's an attitude that comes from the soul of the network itself -- an underlying condescension that shows up in the way its shows are packaged. Everything is over-hyped, promos mislead, segments are repeated so as to hammer home the obvious. Moment of Truth led into commercial breaks with cliffhangers, then followed the break by repeating as much as two minutes of the preceding sequence. It's great for people who get so caught up in the Charmin ads that they forget everything they once knew.

Host Mark Wahlberg presided as though he was a documentary filmmaker who had stumbled upon this sorry scene by accident. "This is a little bigger than the game right now," said the host of that very game. "I wonder if the $100,000 is worth it considering what we're doing here."

His sad face seemed to ask: "How could this terrible thing have happened?"

Strap him in

So horrific were the revelations that questions have since been asked about possible complicity by the couple. Did the Cleris perhaps parlay existing relationship issues into a potential payoff? If so, things went terribly wrong. Their plan to rip their own lives apart on national television for a few hundred thousand dollars went hilariously off the rails when Lauren was finally asked: "Do you still think you're a good person?"

Lauren answered yes, which I would have bet the rent was the right answer. But amazingly, residual bits of undigested humanity conspired to elevate Lauren's blood pressure, and the lie detector cried, "False." They lost all the money. It was really too good to be true.

There is a certain kind of genius at work on a show like this. And while such programming is indefensible by almost any standard you could come up with, it nonetheless offers up one kernel of truth that no scripted drama could ever convey: Moment of Truth demonstrates that there are in this world certain human beings who are stupider and more venal than you ever imagined.

"I wish them all the very best," Wahlberg intoned. And before the lie detector could answer, the show was over.

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