NEW YORK – The network that brought you Homer Simpson took fatherhood to a whole new level Monday night.
Fox aired a tear-soaked reality special, "Who's Your Daddy?" (search), that reunited a woman with the former Marine and his old high school girlfriend who gave her up for adoption about 30 years ago.
"Thank you for having me!" the woman, T.J. Myers, said between sobs at the end of the show, which drew howls of protest from adoption advocates. She earned $100,000 for correctly identifying her birth father from seven impostors.
The program oddly echoed ABC's "The Bachelor" series, with T.J. set up in a luxurious mansion among male suitors. It probably wasn't coincidental that she was a buxom blonde, slightly ditzy, wearing a slinky black evening dress.
She asked the men questions — what two things would your friends say to describe you? — and put them through moves on a dance floor because Fox told her that her dad was a champion disco dancer back in the day.
The show even tried to establish its own catch phrase, when T.J. had to eliminate contenders: "I feel like you could be my father," she told those who stayed.
More tears flowed during the show's 90 minutes than in two months' worth of soap operas. It had all the elements of prime reality cheese: burning candles; T.J. watching her potential dads on a hidden camera; her father standing in silhouette behind a door, his identity waiting to be revealed.
Down to the final two, T.J. asked both men why they had given her up for adoption when she was six weeks old. They both told her stories — the impostor even handed her a stuffed animal — but only one was the truth.
If she had chosen an impostor, he would have received the $100,000.
"T.J's father has a surprise that will blow her away!" Fox announcers said, building up the suspense. The surprise was ultimately meeting her birth mom, who's no longer with her birth father, and his three other daughters.
Except for a brief mention at the beginning of the show, the man and woman who raised T.J. from infancy weren't discussed. That's one of the reasons the special drew outrage from adoption advocates, who worried it would trivialize a deeply emotional experience. The National Council for Adoption (search) pleaded with Fox's 182 affiliates not to air it.
Only one station, WRAZ-TV in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., kept it off the air. Instead, the North Carolina station ran an independently produced special with people talking about their adoption experience.
"We just don't think adoption is a game show," said Tommy Schenck, WRAZ-TV general manager.
Fox Television Studios (search) has filmed six separate "Who's Your Daddy?" shows, but the network has not yet scheduled any of the others to air.