Fox says show isn't about sex

Television: "Temptation Island" is merely about relationships, executive claims.

January 08, 2001|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

LOS ANGELES -- Last year, after the debacle of "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-millionaire," Fox chairman Sandy Grushow vowed that the network was done with "reality" television.

Yesterday, Grushow not only acknowledged that the network has reversed itself, but found himself trying to defend a new Fox show in which the contestants have to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases before being allowed to participate.

The show is "Temptation Island," a heavily promoted reality series premiering Wednesday that features four committed but unmarried couples in their twenties facing sexual temptation from 26 sexy singles on a tropical island off the coast of Belize. The singles include a dancer, a bikini model, a Navy flight instructor and a rock musician.

Grushow and Gail Berman, the new president of Fox Entertainment, said they are merely following changing standards in taste with shows like "Temptation Island" and "Love Cruise," another Fox reality series scheduled for February that features singles "pairing off" on a cruise, in the words of Berman. "Temptation Island" is one of several new reality series that start arriving tomorrow on ABC with the premiere of "The Mole," a show featuring 10 contestants working to win a $1 million prize, but one of them is a mole secretly trying to undermine their efforts.

"I'm not distancing myself from anything. We work in a dynamic business, and things change," Grushow said in response to one of several questions concerning his return to the low road of sexually exploitative reality TV that were asked here yesterday on the Winter Press Tour.

"Look, something happened last summer. A little show called "Survivor" came along and turned the prime-time network television landscape on its ear," Grushow said.

"This is a business, and I'm responsible to a lot of people including the investors in this country. So, it would be negligent on my part not to allow Gail Berman and her programming team to pursue what is obviously an incredibly powerful trend in the industry. The audience has spoken, and they have shown that they have a deep appetite for this kind of non-scripted programming," he added.

The press conference grew contentious when Grushow and Berman tried to spin "Temptation Island," which features men and women in hot tubs trying to seduce each other, as "not being a show about sex."

"I don't think this a show that tries to pry apart couples," Grushow said in answer to a question about the ethics of creating a show in which one member of a relationship betraying the other is packaged as entertainment.

"This is a show that endeavors to explore the dynamics of people in serious relationships. These are people who are very much interested in exploring the strengths of their relationships. This is not a show about sex," he said.

When asked if anyone had sex outside their relationship during the 12 days of filming and whether any sexual acts would be shown on television, Berman declined comment.

"I'm not going to comment on anything that goes on on the island," Berman said.

When asked if the couples and singles had been given condoms by Fox as CBS had done with contestants on "Survivor" and "Big Brother" last year, Grushow said, "I'm not even going to glorify that with a response."

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