- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 19, 2000

As Jane Austen put it, "It is a well-known fact that a man in possession of a fortune must also be in search of a wife." Little in that regard has changed since she penned the opening lines of "Pride and Prejudice," though Miss Austen surely could never have imagined Tuesday night's extravaganza on Fox television.

Fox's two-hour "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire" was aimed at unseating the ABC game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" from atop the Nielsen ratings; the show featured 50 women all competing for an unknown multi-millionaire who remained hidden off-stage.

"It struck me that part of the reason it was so successful was wish fulfillment," said the Fox executive who created the show. "I thought, 'what else do people wish for?' They wish for a relationship. They want to get married. And I thought, 'how could I combine the two?' "

"This is really a nice, lovely, elegant show," the executive said. And in a way it was elegant, at least. Elegant in the marked efficiency of the relatively low-budget broadcast, which pulled in 22.8 million viewers by the time the bride and groom exchanged vows on the air. Only three million viewers watched the Republican presidential candidates exchange blows during the debate in the same time slot.

It was elegant also in the way that it captured the spirit of the times. Perhaps the saddest thing about the show was how earnest these people seemed. The multi-millionaire a motivational speaker and fitness enthusiast from San Diego seemed like such a nice guy. The women pleaded that they were all "real people." Shows like this certainly don't haul out just anyone it takes a special kind of mindset to build a marriage based on money alone. But when they become a part of the collective leitmotif, the thread running through our nightly viewing, then they do reflect a part of the greater consciousness.

Yes, we are a wealthy nation stocked with all the conveniences one could ever want. We are well-fed. The Internet keeps us online and in touch. The stock market glut gives hope of newfound financial security to whole new realms of middle-income families. But something surely is missing when as important a decision as choosing a partner for life becomes trashy entertainment.

It will be recalled that in "Pride and Prejudice," Mrs. Bennett was not the best judge of who to marry her daughters, though she had a beagle's nose for wealthy bachelors. But wealth isn't enough, nor is good looks. But the message on Tuesday was that this is all there is.

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