What you'll see: At last! Someone has finally figured out how to bring the sick thrills that are so much a part of daytime fare like "Jerry Springer" and graft them on to the feel-good circus atmosphere of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"
Leave it to Fox to take unsuspecting game-show contestants and make them really pay for the money they fight to win. On "Moment of Truth," $500,000 can be yours -- if only you're willing to answer some really invasive, embarrassing and obnoxious questions about your behavior in front of loved ones and a nation of onlookers.
These aren't the kind of questions you might get on "The Newlywed Game" or "The Dating Game," mind you; this is really damaging stuff that can hurt relationships and ruin careers. Among the queries asked of contestants last night (and we're paraphrasing): "Have you purposely delayed having children because you're not sure your current wife is the one for you?" "Do you think you gamble too much?" "Have you touched people inappropriately at work?" Fox should just line up everyone and make them fess up to looking at porn online or on-demand. They tell you not to post this stuff on MySpace or Facebook; why it's OK to admit to it on network TV is a real puzzler.
Normally, it's a thrill to see someone plow ahead and use their wits to win a truckload of cash. That was the central selling point of ABC's very successful "Millionaire" and of many of the new prime-time game shows that have succeeded it. But watching people happily admitting terrible wrongs, even as family and friends look on, makes viewers squeamish. The price they pay for hundreds of thousands of dollars is simply too great.
As a result, on "Moment of Truth," winners are losers. Heroes become villains. A supportive family becomes victimized as the person they root for acknowledges one misdeed after another. If you haven't slowed down to look at a highway accident recently, chances are you'll love "Moment of Truth." For others who have hearts and souls, all you can do is feel sorry for the poor saps who hurt themselves by taking part in this game. Bob Dylan said it best: "There's no success like failure. And that failure's no success at all."
What's at stake?: Keeping people tuned in after "American Idol" is a strategy that helped Fox gain viewership for its high-quality medical drama "House." We'll see if the "Idol" juggernaut can do the same for an edgy reality/game-show hybrid. Fox also is viewed as having the best potential to weather the writers strike, as it continues to roll out "Idol," sci-fi drama "Terminator" and other bits and bites. Any success while others roll repeats would be welcome.
Who's on board?: Last night's episode included ads from Dunkin' Donuts, Subway, Best Buy, Capital One and Kraft Foods' Philadelphia cream cheese. The show also featured a public-service announcement, which makes one blink (why would Fox run a public-service ad during prime-time when it stands to make lots of ad revenue on its best ad time?).
Your ad here?: "Moment of Truth" is a place for marketers who like to ride the edge -- movie studios, telecommunications advertisers, fast-food chains. Daytime advertisers known for being genteel would probably put their ads behind soap operas, not in-your-face confessional talk shows. The same holds true at night. If you're more conservative in what you support, chances are there are other programs that would offer a better fit.
Media buyer's verdict: The "American Idol" lead-in makes "Moment of Truth" a tempting prospect, but the question is whether viewers will tune in again and again after getting a voyeuristic thrill, said Shari Anne Brill, senior VP-director of programming at Carat. "I'm more put off by the people who submit themselves than by the fact that the show exists," Ms. Brill said. "Having 'American Idol' as lead-in is the best possible place you could be on the schedule."