Critic's NotesAn Idolatrous Echo Across Networks
By Amy Chozick, The New York Times
- Jun. 6, 2012
The setup: Four celebrities sit on revolving chairs in front of a live studio audience and listen to blind auditions. If they like what they hear, they swivel around to take a look.
Sound familiar? It’s supposed to.“The Choice,” a dating competition series that begins Thursday on Fox
, is designed to take a less-than-subtle jab at “The Voice,” on NBC.
Instead of judging aspiring singers, which is the point of “The Voice,” in “The Choice” bachelors like Mike Sorrentino (The Situation) and Rob Kardashian listen to “sexy singles” sell themselves, usually by pitching physical attributes. If they like what they hear, they push a “love handle” to turn their magic chairs around and see what the women look like.
Even in the cutthroat world of broadcast television, Fox’s targeting of “The Voice” stands out, and underscores the stakes involved in the highly lucrative but competitive arena of reality TV. “The Voice,” which Fox executives have said is essentially “American Idol” with red spinning chairs, contributed to a double-digit decline in ratings for “American Idol,” the blockbuster Fox franchise that last month concluded its 11th season.
And so the fight was on. At the Fox upfront in New York last month, the president of entertainment, Kevin Reilly, stood onstage at the Beacon Theater in front of a giant graph titled “Decline of the Voice” with a single, dramatically sloped line pointing downward.
This fall “The Voice” on NBC will compete against Fox’s other big talent show, “X Factor,” in what Mr. Reilly has called “one of the major showdowns of the fall.” Fox has tried to give “X Factor” a leg up in its second season with a new judging panel that includes Britney Spears and Demi Lovato.
Simon Cowell, the creator of “X Factor,” said of the competition, “I wish them luck, but second’s not great.”
NBC declined to comment.
Until the showdown this fall, Fox, known for its cheeky tone and audacious premises, will take one additional poke at the peacock. The six episodes of “The Choice,” shot over three days at CBS Studio Center, in Studio City, Calif., and hosted by Cat Deeley of “So You Think You Can Dance,” are designed to draw young viewers during the summer television doldrums.
Fox will pair “The Choice” with “Take Me Out,” a speed-dating game show adapted from a British series and hosted by George Lopez.
Both shows are designed to fill a void in the television landscape, providing updated versions of “The Dating Game” and “Love Connection,” said Mike Darnell, Fox’s president of alternative entertainment.
“In the reality market, when something looks dead, that’s when you have to come in and plug the hole,” he said.
Fox’s previous attempts at dating series have not lasted. “Mr. Personality,” a 2003 series hosted by Monica Lewinsky, had one bachelorette choose from 20 masked bachelors. (Mr. Darnell now calls the mask idea “stupid.”)
In “Temptation Island,” couples lived on an island with a group of promiscuous singles to test the strength of their relationships. “Joe Millionaire” followed a bachelor as he searched for a bride. The catch? The “millionaire” is just a working-class Joe.
“The Choice” is not the first time Fox has created a reality series inspired by a competing network’s hit. In 2000 it introduced “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?,” a rabble-rousing take on ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” After ABC acquired the rights to “Supernanny,” Fox followed with a deal for “Nanny 911.”
In 2004, when makeover shows were all the rage, Fox developed “The Swan,” in which women deemed “ugly” were given extreme makeovers, including severe plastic surgery.
The tongue-in-cheek programming speaks to a wider corporate culture at Fox’s parent company, News Corporation, analysts have said. Fox Broadcasting broke onto the scene in the late 1980s. Under the leadership of News Corporation’s chief executive, Rupert Murdoch, and Barry Diller, the network became known for irreverent shows like “Married ... With Children” and “The Simpsons.”
“They’ve always tried to see how far they can go and if there’s a little backlash, that’s a good thing,” said Brad Adgate, senior vice president for research at Horizon Media, a media-buying company. He added: “It all builds buzz.”
Mr. Darnell’s trademark style of freewheeling reality concepts include a dwarf-dating contest called “The Littlest Groom”; “Married by America,” in which viewers voted on which strangers were paired up; and “Who’s Your Daddy,” about adults adopted at birth and made to guess which contestant was their biological father.
“I fit in here because this has always been a maverick network,” Mr. Darnell said of Fox. “People come to this network expecting an irreverence and having fun with genres and spinoffs.”
Asked whether Fox created “The Choice” purely to poke fun at “The Voice,” Mr. Darnell demurred. “It is interesting how the two shows’ titles rhyme,” he said, refusing to comment further on the similarities.
In a phone interview the rapper Romeo Miller, a bachelor on the show, accidentally referred to “The Choice” as “The Voice,” but he said that’s where the similarities end.
“It’s about finding blind love,” Mr. Miller said. “You have to be actually sitting in those spinning chairs to understand it.”
This summer “The Choice” will face competition from NBC’s “Love in the Wild” (think “Survivor” meets “The Bachelor”) and ABC’s “Bachelor Pad,” a spinoff of the popular but aging “Bachelor” franchise.
The celebrities on “The Choice” include Mr. Miller; the “Jersey Shore” stars Mr. Sorrentino and Pauly D; Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers; and chef Rocco DiSpirito. They were chosen to draw young audiences.
The average age of Fox’s viewers has slowly increased to 46 in the most recent season, up from 39 in 2005, according to Nielsen. That’s still younger than CBS, ABC and NBC, whose average viewers are over 50.
Like “The Voice,” the celebrities will swivel their chairs to see a contestant, and the single women (or in one episode, men) then choose whose “team” they want to be on — meaning which celebrity they would like to win a date with. The competitors then wear sashes with the name of their chosen celebrity.
To cast “The Choice” Mr. Darnell tapped his reality-show contacts.
“He called me and asked if I was single,” the singer Taylor Hicks, a Season 5 “Idol” winner, recounted. “I said: ‘Well, um, yes. Why?’ ” He will soon appear on an episode of “The Choice.”http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/06/arts/television/the-choice-from-fox-battles-the-voice-from-nbc.html?_r=1&ref=media