Fox looks down aisle with new reality show

Is television taking us back to the Middle Ages? Time was, most weddings were arranged affairs. Brides were sold off as chattel like so many sacks of gold or flour. Kings and nobility arranged marriages to fortify their power.

The union of England's Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon was the AOL-Time Warner merger of its day. And come to think of it, both met with disaster.

Now Fox is asking bored viewers to arrange a marriage for five loveless singles on an unscripted series called "Married By America" (7 p.m., Fox). Is this the end of civilization as we know it? Or merely the second coming of "The Dating Game"? Maybe it's a little bit of both. There's nothing wrong with viewers playing matchmakers. It's a popular pastime for many people, I know. But Fox is definitely playing on the audience's cynicism by implying that these matches will end in matrimony, an institution that some still consider a sacrament.

Fox is riding rather high after claiming victory in last month's ratings sweeps. Much of their success is due to the ratings for "Joe Millionaire" and "American Idol." More gimmicky programming is sure to follow, and sure to fail. Any network that thinks it can build its schedule around non-repeatable stunts is asking for trouble. Just ask Regis Philbin.

One of the sobering statistics buried in announcements about last month's ratings are the numbers for the second airing of any "Joe Millionaire." For the week ending Feb. 16, "Joe" attracted nearly 25 million viewers the first time out. But when repeated the show all but disappeared, dropping from the second ranked show to 92nd, just below "Reba."

That's what I call a nonrenewable resource.

Tonight's other highlights

  • Debra gets jealous about the effort Ray puts into Marie's birthday gift on "Everybody Loves Raymond" (8 p.m., CBS).
  • Bobby seeks compensation for a wrongly imprisoned man on "The Practice" (8 p.m., ABC).
  • The documentary "The Hunt for the Lost Squadron" (8 p.m., History) looks at the 20-year project of rich aviation buffs to find two B-17 bombers and six P-38 fighters abandoned in Greenland in 1942.
  • "Salt Lake 2002" (8 p.m., Showtime) reflects on the personalities and drama of last winter's Olympic games.
  • A professor who teaches a course on evil falls victim to his syllabus on "CSI: Miami" (9 p.m., CBS).
  • Gloria Stuart ("Titanic") guest stars on "Miracles" (9 p.m., ABC).

Series notes

Doug is jealous on "King of Queens" (7 p.m., CBS) ... Joe Rogan hosts "Fear Factor" (7 p.m., NBC) ... Parody games on "I'm a Celebrity -- Get Me Out of Here!" (7 p.m., ABC) ... Gary Coleman appears on "The Parkers" (7 p.m., UPN) ... Eric checks up on the new pastor on "7th Heaven" (7 p.m., WB).

Greg resents Jimmy on "Yes, Dear" (7:30 p.m., CBS) ... Pink-slipped on "One on One" (7:30 p.m. UPN).

A nip and a tuck on "Girlfriends" (8 p.m., UPN) ... Dr. Brown operates on Colin on "Everwood" (8 p.m., WB) ... A tug of war on "Half and Half" (8:30 p.m., UPN) ... Taylor's pom-pom dreams on "Still Standing" (8:30 p.m., CBS) ... Twin decisions on "Meet My Folks" (8:30 p.m., NBC).

Late night

Kurt Russell appears on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno hosts Hootie and the Blowfish on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).

Ted Danson, Steven R. Schirripa and Beck show up on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Liza Minnelli, David Gest and actor James Marsters are booked on "The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn" (12:37 p.m., CBS).

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