It’s difficult to understand how big of a phenomenon “Joe Millionaire” was in 2003. Part of the early “Outlandish Age” of reality TV — particularly under the watch of then-Fox alternative boss Mike Darnell — Joe Millionaire set rating records for an unscripted series, some of which still stand today.
In February 2003, “Joe Millionaire” ended its finale with nearly 40 million viewers tuning in to catch its big reveal — in which a trustful woman found that the wealthy man she was dating was more hundredaire than a millionaire.
After the sequel fizzled, however, the franchise was postponed and stayed inactive for nearly two decades until now.
Nineteen years later, on Jan. 6, Fox is launching Joe Millionaire: For Richer or Poorer, remembering a time when Marriott and Andrich (now Zora Sabrina) were TV’s reigning reality stars.
In the original series Marriott, 28, wined and dined 20 women at a chateau in France. They thought that he was Evan Wallace, who had inherited $50 million — and not a construction worker who’d made $19,000 the year before.
He tried to find a partner he felt wasn’t interested in him only for his (fake) wealth during the series.
In the first promo for the reboot, the new seriesJoe Millionaire: For Richer or Poorer,” in the first promo for the reboot, which will air in January 2022, the host announces, “One of these men is worth over 10 million dollars, the other is not,” he says. “Who is who?
When Fox alternative entertainment president Rob Wade joined the network in 2017, he had an eye on a Joe Millionaire revival.
But first, Wade had to make sure Fox still owned the rights to the franchise — given that some network properties were a part of the Disney acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets and some weren’t. But development hinged on an even larger question: What should Joe Millionaire even be in this modern age?
“We knew we couldn’t just bring back a remake of the original, that wouldn’t work,” Wade says. “Obviously, the big surprise was gone. I also felt like that kind of surprise is very particular to a certain era. And that kind of era is probably gone in TV. So we had to find a way of reimagining the format by putting a twist on it, which was going to be fresh, and also really importantly, sustainable.“
“Joe Millionaire: For Richer or Poorer” was shot on a large estate in Georgia, with the 20 women living in a mansion and the two Joes — Kurt, 32, a construction CEO from Charlotte, N.C., and Steven, 27, a farming CEO from Gallatin, Mo. — in a nearby residence on the same property.
Just like in the original, a “butler” helps facilitate the action: This time it’s actor, musician and Rod Stewart impersonator Martin Andrew, who is there to define the action and serve as a bit of an adviser for both the Joes and the women.
When the women first arrive, they believe they’ll be competing for the attention of one man. But soon they learn there are two Joes, and they’re informed of the twist. (Yes, both have the title “CEO,” but only one is loaded.)
“They found out quickly that they had twice the chances of falling in love,” Salsano says. “And the reason why personally I love that is because normally it’s like, ‘Here’s this person — fall in love with them.’ This means that the guys have to work hard as well. They had to put the effort forward because there was someone else there for them to compete [with] and now you’re giving the ladies a choice.”
Casting proved to be difficult for Salsano and company: Not only did her team need to find the right men to play the Joes, but they required a millionaire who was wealthy, and not just on paper. (Fox was burned in 2000 when it turned out “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?” star Rick Rockwell turned out not to be loaded.)
“About 90% to 95% of the people that told us they were millionaires that we spent hours and thousands of dollars putting through background checks would come up not rich at all, once you added up their debt,” Salsano says.
But even once the team recalled candidates to serve as the two Joes, it was also crucial to Salsano that the guys were in it for the right reasons (to use a reality TV cliché).
And they ought to have chemistry with each other. Beyond its dating aspect, the show also explores how these two men deal with wooing the same women while also living together.
“This is not a show where two grown men are fighting,” Salsano says. “It’s a little bit more of what I call ‘Bro Millionaire.’ These are two guys that are commiserating about being a dude. I think it breaks the mold, and it messes with the format in kind of a way where I believe it feels less stagey. I love their interaction. You could also see their wheels turning.”
Women are eliminated each week — sometimes by agreement from both Joes and sometimes through other means. And although Wade and Salsano aren’t ready to reveal how it ends, Wade does say that “at the end, we really wanted a significant commitment to be the end of the show.
And I wanted it to feel like this could be a forever moment. Obviously we don’t want to do spoilers on the ending but I feel like we got that as well.”
The show’s women didn’t have access to Google or other devices once in the mansion, which prevented them from finding out who the Joes really are. Could yet another Joe Millionaire iteration be in the works should this one hit?
“We’ve already started talking about other things that we can do moving forward,” Wade says. “There are ways of updating formats and giving them the ability to come back year after year. That’s our hope for ‘Joe Millionaire,’ we think it’s got the potential to be a return format.”