The temptations of Martha Stewart

In a surprising change of direction, Fox TV has announced a substantial redesign of its new reality-based series "Temptation Island," set to premiere Wednesday night.

Over the past several weeks, Fox advertisements have touted the new show, which promises to follow four unmarried "but seriously committed" couples on a tropical island with 26 enticing singles.

Viewers were promised scantily clad "but touchingly sincere" couples as they try to retain their fidelity among a host of willing tempters.

No more. Fox announced yesterday that market research indicates viewers aren't interested in titillating sex shows. In response to these findings, Martha Stewart has been appointed the new executive director of the controversial program. Her first move, according to sources close to the famous homemaker, has been to retitle the show, "Temptation Kitchen Island."

The new premise will involve placing four seasonal berry pies on the island in her beautiful kitchen. TV viewers will watch - live! - as hungry "but appropriately restrained" models walk into the kitchen and test their mettle against Martha's wares.

One advertisement under development shows a Calvin Klein model biting his lip while he grips the gorgeous Corian countertop.

"They thought it was just a game," the narrator intones ominously. "They didn't know how far fruit pie could go." Another ad shows a woman crying over a fingerprint- and scratch-resistant Amana range. "It's hot!" whispers the narrator. "Too hot to touch!"

When she plunges her fork into a boysenberry pie, the music swells, and the camera pans away to show Martha's elegant hand-painted window tiles.

The network wouldn't comment on plans for a spin-off series called "Who Wants to Marry a Stenciling Billionaire?"

Reaction to the new direction at Fox has been mixed. A Gallup poll found that 89 percent of Americans would rather be stranded on a desert island with young models than make their own greeting cards from Victorian hatboxes with Martha Stewart.

In a prepared statement written on lightly tinted grass paper with a potato-print border, Ms. Stewart called "Temptation Kitchen Island" "an organic, all-natural extension of the exciting reality-based show" she's been producing for years.

"I think viewers will respond to the immediacy of this new program and the harrowing choice these models must make. Will it be lemon-blueberry? Will it be plum-raspberry? These are questions that resonate in a culture too long forced to accept mass-produced baked goods. And that's a good thing'Ѣ."

A Fox Television spokesman said, "Before they criticize, we hope people will wait until they've had a chance to see the entire program many, many times."

Industry experts note that competing networks will be quick to match Fox's move toward less salacious, more homebound programming. In a first sign of this shift, MTV announced plans to replace "The Real World" with a new reality-based hardware show called "Paint Drying." No further details were available at press time.

Ron Charles is the Monitor's book editor, and occasional satirist.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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