Ty Burr wonders how reality television could sink so low

By Ty Burr
Updated February 23, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

Why marrying a millionaire on TV is a lousy idea

You dance with the devil, don’t be surprised if the devil bites you on the ass.

Actually, why don’t we just go ahead and, in place of ”devil,” substitute the words ”creepy showbiz fringe player and alleged ex-girlfriend stalker who has successfully palmed himself off as a multimillionaire and in the process has hornswoggled several criminally naive television producers, millions of credulous audience members, and one deluded nurse who is now hopelessly married to the guy”? Call a spade a spade, you know?

I refer, of course, to the revelation that Rick Rockwell — the man who got to choose a bride from the contestants during the heavily viewed premiere broadcast of Fox’s ”Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?” — had had a restraining order slapped on him after physically threatening his girlfriend nine years earlier. Regardless of the particular details of the incident, don’t you think that Fox executives should have smoked that little factoid out BEFORE the show aired?

Add that to the fact that Rockwell’s résumé is turning out to have more holes in it than the plot of ”Double Jeopardy” — the groups he claims to have done motivational speaking for have never heard of him; Jay Leno, who he claims to have opened for, has never heard of him — and the guy is slowly being revealed as merely one of those people who would do anything for face time, including telling jokes for 30 hours straight in an effort to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.

So Rockwell’s looking more and more like a duplicitous (or, at the very least, disingenuous) schmo. Fine: the now canceled ”Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?” got exactly the groom it deserved. I don’t care if it tarnishes the institution of marriage — from the White House to divorce court, that institution is tarnished enough, thanks. What gave me the creepy-crawlies is the way the concept itself reduced the mysteries of human attraction down to the dumb-bunny level of a game show.

So much so that I didn’t watch the broadcast. Yeah, I know, that puts me on a par with those little old ladies who wouldn’t go see ”The Last Temptation of Christ” but wanted every last print burned anyway (and for the record, ”The Dating Game” gave me the willies, too). So sue me; nothing about ”Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?” sounded like entertainment to me. It’s my high horse, and I’m used to it.

I’m in the minority, I realize. The show’s single broadcast garnered an immense audience, most of which was made up of women. Plenty of EW staffers loved the damn thing, for reasons of kitsch or merely for the pleasure of watching a finely wrought car accident. So many people applied to be contestants that the show’s website crashed.

That last one has me really stumped. What’s the thinking here? That you’re actually going to find a life mate? Or just that you’ll get to be on TV, take home valuable prizes, win a guy with money (and a restraining order out against him), and end up with a cool story to tell your friends after they’ve rescued you from the trunk of his car? Someone, please explain the appeal.

As for any future game shows from Fox, why don’t they just go where they’re obviously heading and send in the lions?