Titillation Island: Show Promises Real-Life Infidelity

By Kim Campbell writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 9, 2001 | Go to article overview

Titillation Island: Show Promises Real-Life Infidelity


Kim Campbell writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Infidelity and weddings have long been ratings grabbers on TV. But now a network is trying to manufacture one at the expense of the other - with a twist. The morality play stars real couples.

Starting tomorrow, Fox debuts its much-hyped reality series "Temptation Island" - where four unmarried couples head to a tropical island with 26 singles put there to test the strength of true love.

Thanks to provocative promotional ads, the program is already getting boos from the clergy and parent groups and raising questions about how far these shows will go to manipulate reality.

"Now there's a sense that all bets are off," says Prof. Robert Thompson, a pop-culture expert. "It's the ultimate set up. Talk about the devil's workshop."

Billed as the most daring reality show ever, "Temptation Island" is a product of the current reality-TV blitz that began when Americans flocked to their televisions last summer to watch "Survivor" on CBS. Along with "Temptation Island," Fox also has romance-themed "Love Cruise" in the hopper, where 16 singles with access to alcohol and one another cavort on the high seas. UPN has picked up "Chains of Love," which shackles four singles to a member of the opposite sex.

But it's "Temptation Island," the first off the blocks, that has some people shaking their heads in disbelief. Ethicists question whether it will cause Americans to place less value on trust in relationships. And at least two watchdog groups - the Parents Television Council and the American Family Association - have posted notices on their websites asking people to call Fox and protest.

In Dallas, Rabbi Kenneth Roseman mailed more than a thousand letters to his congregation at Temple Shalom and other clergy last month encouraging them to do the same.

"It's an assault on relationships," says Rabbi Roseman.

Moral outrage or morality play?

Besides breaking couples up in the name of ratings, he says, the program also challenges the work clergy and other professionals do to repair damaged relationships. "I'm not prepared to take that lying down. There are so many of us that work so hard to strengthen American families," he says, noting that nearly 50 percent of marriages end in divorce in the US.

Fox is encouraging people not to make judgments based on promotional ads - which executive producer Chris Cowan says are meant to create a stir and don't reflect the nature of the entire series. Fox officials also maintain that the show is not about sex.

It does have titillating and sensational elements, Mr. Cowan says, but does not cross the line. "The concept to me is not about breaking people up, but it's about putting people into a moral dilemma and seeing what decisions they make," he says. One of the biggest misconceptions, he says, is that "we went out and cast 26 nubile singles to go in and try to seduce and break up relationships. …

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