Empty8-10 p.m. Wednesdays (Fox)
One way to describe Fox’s “Secret Millionaire” is to call it “Lifestyles of the Poor and Anonymous.” In this reality series about faith, hope and charity, millionaires are taken to seedy sections of town to see how the other half (or is it three-fourths by now?) lives.
In each one-hour episode, a multimillionaire introduces himself and then, with spouse or child in tow, becomes downwardly mobile. They move into low-cost housing with just enough money to pay for their food and, at least, a few days’ rent. An on-screen advisory says people they meet are told that the camera crews tagging after them are making a documentary on poverty.
In the next few days, they meet people in the neighborhood who are struggling to help others or, in one case, just to stay afloat with crushing medical bills. At week’s end, they donate amounts that total at least $100,000 to people they met. Each donation is preceded by a confession that they lied about their financial circumstances and followed by hugs and teary eyes.
Like most reality shows, much of “Secret Millionaire” is carefully staged to maximize emotional manipulations. Credits list a half-dozen casting personnel and two set dressers. For those with speed-reading skills, a one-second advisory notes, “Contributions made on camera may not reflect the actual method of payment.” Heaven only knows how many retakes of tearful scenes were done.
All that notwithstanding, there’s still much to be said for this feel-good series. In the premiere, multimillionaire lawyer Greg, whose booming business specializes in bankruptcy and foreclosures, and his surfer son Cole quickly learn that there are a lot of good, hardworking people who, through no fault of their own, struggle daily for the basic necessities. Others with very little nonetheless share what they have with those even less fortunate.
Greg and Cole leave their posh life in Orange County, Calif., for a week in depressed Imperial Beach. They stay in a motel so cheap that even one of the cockroaches only has two legs. They meet a woman who became homeless after medical bills forced her from her house. They meet a family with two working parents, neither of whom has health insurance to pay for their young daughter with bone cancer. They prove these people don’t just exist during political campaign seasons.
For the slumming millionaires, their personal contribution amount to much less than 1% of their net worth. Still, even this relatively modest amount, combined with images of those less fortunate, makes a powerful statement, particularly at this time of the year.
The series is scheduled at 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, starting next week.
Production: Rocket Science Laboratories in association with Liberal Media and RDF USA.
Executive producers: Bruce Toms, Chris Cowan, Jean Michel-Michenaud, Chris Coelen, Greg Goldman.
Co-executive producers: Lauren Alvarez, Megan Estrada, Danielle King.
Supervising producers: Patrick Higgins, Rob Buchta.
Senior producer: Jennifer Faison.
Director of photography: Daryl Studebaker. Editor: Chris Kirkpatrick.
Casting: Sheila Conlin.