Execs at Fox promise rebirth

Retooling: Network has mea culpas for a tired `X-Files,' its `Multi- Millionaire' fiasco and everything in between.

July 21, 2000|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

LOS ANGELES - After a season that was mostly a disaster, Sandy Grushow, the new chairman of the Fox Entertainment Television Group, said he wanted to announce a "new day at the network" and the "beginning of a major rebuilding process."

But Grushow, who has been on the job only seven months, and Gail Berman, who has been in her job as network president for just three weeks, spent most of their press conference here yesterday defending past fiascoes like "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire," as well as apologizing for problems with their signature series, "Ally McBeal" and "The X-Files."

David Duchovny will be back to star in "The X-Files" for an eighth season, but he will appear in only 11 of the 20 episodes scheduled to air next year, Berman told television critics gathered here on the Summer Press Tour. However, Berman said that she felt series creator Chris Carter was "creatively regenerated" and that his enthusiasm, along with the addition of a new leading character played by Robert Patrick ("Terminator 2") would make up for Duchovny's absence.

In speaking of "Ally McBeal," Berman acknowledged that, "toward the end of last season, the ratings started to slip, and we took notice. Some felt the series took many flights of fancy and lost its emotional center." Berman said that after talking to series creator David E. Kelley, she feels the series will return to its themes of family in the workplace.

Grushow grimaced at repeated questions about "Multi-Millionaire," a show that featured Rick Rockwell, identified as a wealthy entrepreneur, choosing a bride, Darva Conger, from the ranks of female candidates.

After the show aired, it turned out Rockwell was not the wealthy businessman he purported to be and that he had a temporary restraining order against him for allegedly physically abusing a former wife. The TV marriage fell apart before the honeymoon cruise had barely started, and Conger, a nurse who claimed to hate publicity, has been shamelessly promoting herself since, most recently in the pages of Playboy.

"Look, when [the show] first took America by storm," Grushow said, "we didn't think we were stepping outside the boundaries of appropriateness. Then, it came back and bit us you know where."

Grushow said the horrific aftermath resulted in Fox's hiring the international consulting firm Price Waterhouse to assess everything from the background of participants to the risks involved in producing each reality show.

"The primary lesson we learned: We have to take a hard look at each of these things," said Grushow. "We're all playing with fire."

In defending Fox against charges of irresponsibility, Grushow listed some of the shows he called "shockumentaries" that Fox chose not to air this year after they were made. They included "The World's Meanest Women" and "The World's Worst Plastic Surgery."

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