Fallout from Fox fiasco touches many lives

February 29, 2000|By SUSAN REIMER

MY MOTHER used to tell her four daughters that it was as easy to love a rich man as a poor one. Thanks to Darva Conger, another piece of homespun wisdom goes up in smoke.

The emergency room nurse who competed with 49 other women for the opportunity to marry a rich but complete stranger on national television no sooner got home from the honeymoon, if you could call it that, than she exercised her annulment option.

Conger signed up for "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" on a lark, she says, never dreaming that Rick Rockwell would choose her. She was looking for a free trip to Las Vegas and found herself instead in the Monica Lewinsky section of tabloid purgatory, with a permanent stain on her marriage credentials.

As if she heard the question hurled at television screens across the country, she told ABC's Diane Sawyer, "I don't think I was thinking clearly."

Talk about cold feet. Conger said she freaked when Rockwell chose her and wanted to call a halt to the whole spectacle. But it takes a lot more nerve to do that in front of a nationwide television audience than it does in front of a handful of relatives, so Conger played her part.

Then, in the ultimate version of "the morning after the night before," the new Mrs. Rockwell wakes up to allegations that her groom may have struck a former girlfriend and threatened to kill her, and the honeymoon was way over.

Apparently, the producers at Fox never specifically asked Rick Rockwell if he'd ever assaulted a woman, and I was immediately reminded of the lessons learned by the mothers of sly teen-agers. Our motto: "Assume Nothing."

I might add that the sanctimonious among us were also nodding our heads with the certainty that it was divine retribution that caused Fox television to cast an alleged woman-beater in a sweeps-week show that amps up the risks of marriage to an impossible degree. I guess you really can't know another person completely.

And the show certainly did muddy the waters of any conversation you might have been having with your kids about sex before marriage, especially when the wedding night immediately follows a harrowing televised scramble among grasping women for a man about whom they know nothing more than his bank balance. Sex on the third date seems sanctified by comparison.

The show sent unwanted messages to husbands, too, who might decide that their 401(k) entitles them to a lot more favorable attention than they'd been getting.

Men might have come to the unfortunate conclusion after watching a show like this and reading of Rockwell's suspect past that if failed comics can make millions on real estate and then have their pick of 50 women on national television, all they need is a little mid-life course correction, and isn't there enough of that going on already?

The rebroadcast of the show was canceled, Fox forswore any future matchmaking, and those of us who feared we were witnessing the fall of Western civilization are sighing with relief.

Had this ratings gambit been a romantic success, how could any network idea man have topped it? How about, "Let's put these two strangers together for a night, roll the dice and see what kind of genetic defect pops up in the next generation?"

I must admit that the promotion for the show did not catch my attention -- I could not imagine marrying a perfect stranger, even a rich one, and I was not even curious enough to see what kind of women would -- and I was only drawn to the spectacle of Fox network's fiery crash.

Nor could I find among my fellow mothers any who would admit to having watched the broadcast. Most of us are too busy trying to find a moment to watch "Once and Again," a show about how sexy life can be as soon as you realize you married the wrong guy, a show Darva Conger might want to catch.

But then none of us are trolling the Internet, the personals or the hot new bars looking for Mr. Right, so "Who Wants To Marry A Multi-Millionaire?" has a different demographic in mind.

My friends and I would be more likely to tune into a show on which women were competing for a week alone on a beach with a book. Or free grocery shopping until the children leave home. Or a lifetime of folded laundry. Or all the little repairs around the house he never has time to do.

It is all a matter of priorities. While marrying a millionaire might solve some of those problems, it is clear from Darva Conger's experience that it also creates new ones.

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