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When bad shows become truly abominable
Who was the real victim of the "Multi-millionaire" hoax?

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By Frank Houston

Feb. 23, 2000 | Hold the "divorce" puns: Fox announced Monday that it is dropping the smash hit Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" -- God's greatest gift to network television since, well, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" -- after silly, salacious and disturbing details emerged over the weekend about the first episode's hubby.

But the revelations raised more questions than they answered. Is "multimillionaire" Rick Rockwell -- a comedian, real estate investor, motivational speaker and hustler -- actually a wealthy guy seeking a wife or just a show-biz hack seeking publicity? And how could Fox have put Rockwell on the show without knowing more about his past?

Also Today

Between a Rick and a hard place As Rick "I'm going to make you so happy" Rockwell rocks Fox's world, Jenny "I'm a little hottie!" McCarthy rocks Kirk Douglas' lap.
By Amy Reiter

Most important, it's still impossible to know who was most victimized by the hoax: Fox, which received huge ratings but also an outpouring of criticism with the revelations about Rockwell; the new bride, who on Wednesday told Good Morning America she wants an annulment; or home viewers, who had to endure a new low in "real-life" programming.

The heavily promoted "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" was scheduled to re-air Tuesday night, a week after Rockwell chose a bride from a group of 50 women he had never met in the first episode. The two-hour show drew a huge audience -- from 10 million viewers in the program's first half-hour to 22.8 million in the final half-hour. Somewhere, more than one Fox executive is getting misty-eyed at the memory of those numbers right about now.

Then an alternative media site -- the Smoking Gun, which specializes in tracking down public and government records that are sometimes too arcane for conventional media -- got the goods on Rockwell that Fox never did. On Saturday the site revealed that Rockwell was accused of roughing up and threatening to kill a girlfriend, who got a restraining order against him, although he was never charged with a crime.

Debbie Goyne filed the abuse claim against Rockwell in 1991, the site reported. The information was backed up with links to copies of Los Angeles Superior Court documents, obtained late Friday, including Goyne's four-page petition for a protective order and the judge's restraining order.

They are incriminating, to say the least. "On several occasions Rick Rockwell threw me around and slapped me and hit me in my face," Goyne wrote in her 1991 petition. "Recently, he said he would find me and kill me."

Fox executives were stunned by the controversy, since Rockwell had undergone five weeks of vetting and interviewing by the special's production company, Next Entertainment, which hired a private security firm to check into Rockwell's criminal, civil and credit background. The restraining order didn't turn up.

The cancellation was ordered by Fox Television Network Chairman Sandy Grushow. Fox Executive Vice President Mike Darnell -- the brains behind "Multi-Millionaire" as well as high-brow ratings bonanzas such as "When Animals Attack," "When Good Pets Go Bad" and "Alien Autopsy" -- told the New York Times, "This is the end for this show. We are not doing another one." But he vowed to be "back in May" -- TV's next sweeps period -- "with something interesting."

A call seeking comment from Tom Tyrer, Fox Entertainment's vice president for corporate communications, was not returned in time for publication.

If Fox really spent five weeks investigating Rockwell, it should fire its investigator. The restraining order wasn't the only suspicious detail about Rockwell's past.

. Next page | A faked résumé and $750,000 in liquid assets

Illustration by Bob Watts/Salon.com



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