- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2000

In the wake of “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?” Fox executives are probably wondering if they can annul their marriage to this awful show. When Fox aired the show Feb. 15, the network beamed at the show’s peak of 22.8 million viewers. “Who Wants to Marry” featured 50 women, all of whom were competing for the heartstrings and purse strings of an off-stage multi-millionaire. But the winner, blushing bride Darva Conger, said yesterday that she would seek an annulment from Mr. Rockwell.

“I was just going to be on TV and wave to my family and friends,” the former Miss Conger said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” yesterday. “We thought it was just a lark.” It turns out this lark has made quite a loon out of Mrs. Rockwell soon to be Miss Conger again. The denouement has also featured Mr. Rockwell’s undoing, some of which comes from speculation that he’s not really that wealthy he has two busted toilets sitting in his backyard, according to neighbors and other, darker details. A prior engagement went similarly awry for Rick Rockwell, the supposed multi-millionaire. Debbie Goyne, Mr. Rockwell’s ex-fiance, was particularly nonplused with Mr. Rockwell’s idea of courtship. “I am filing this restraining order because,” she wrote in 1991, “having lived with and known Rick for over one year, it is my belief that his elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor. He is a person who experiences severe emotional highs and lows.”

Mr. Rockwell has said that he “really had a romantic ideal” of his recent marriage. And while Fox’s newest Casanova denies Miss Goyne’s 1991 charges of battery, he admitted to “Dateline NBC” that he deflated her car tires after she deflated the relationship, and threatened to kill her once during a spat. We all fall short of our ideals sometimes.

According to a statement from the production company for “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?” Next Entertainment “a good-faith background check performed prior to the show by a reputable, independent investigator did not reveal any information that Mr. Rockwell was anything other than a decent, successful man.” The heavy-hitters at Next Entertainment and Fox perhaps should have realized that anyone who would get married in a television show doesn’t have a full-service elevator. No one would buy a car based on such cursory information and acquaintance.

There’s no doubt that these shows prey on the neediest, the sort of people who would jump in front of a camera without ever considering the consequences. And surely this debacle will mar the lives of Mr. Rockwell and the former Miss Conger for a while. Mr. Rockwell’s motivational speaking career is probably ruined (maybe that’s just as well). She has faced deep national humiliation.

The real story, though, lies with the humiliation at Fox. Voyeuristic TV is meant to make a quick easy buck. It is cost-effective. It pulls in viewers. But no network would air a special like “Millionaire” if it knew how sweeping the consequences would be. Fox has cemented its reputation as not the classiest of the major networks, the home of such shows as “When Animals Attack.” Who knows if anyone in TV land has learned a lesson from this debacle; but the rest of us ought to have.

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