Programming executives from Fox television, peppered on Sunday with questions from skeptical TV critics over the controversial new reality series "Temptation Island", said they were just giving people what they wanted.
Set to premiere on Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST, the series takes four unmarried couples to an "exotic location" peopled with 26 sexy singles, ostensibly to test each couple's level of commitment, according to Fox.
The show is the latest in a slew of new reality-based series being premiered by the networks in the months ahead, each seeking to draw the same kind of huge crowds that watched CBS' smash hit "Survivor" last summer. The two-hour "Survivor" finale drew an audience of nearly 52 million - the most viewers ever for a summer series.
Before the "Survivor" phenomenon, however, Fox, reacting to criticism of its shows such as "When Animals Attack" and the highly rated but controversial "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire," said last year it was leaving the reality genre for higher ground.
But now TV critics question the network's commitment to its decision.
Many critics and writers who gathered in Pasadena, Calif. to preview Fox's new shows said "Temptation Island," in which committed couples are tempted to break up for sexier mates, appears to be a reversion to the network's old ways.
Fox executives declined to provide details of the kinds of things that happen in the series, although they confirmed that each of the show's participants was screened in advance for sexually transmitted diseases.
"Clearly this company in the past year has principally focused on the creation of scripted entertainment shows," said Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group.
"(But) something happened this summer.... A little show called 'Survivor' came along and really turned the network television landscape on its ear."
Grushow said Fox has a responsibility not only to its viewers but also to its investors to produce shows that will be hits.
"The audience has spoken, and they've demonstrated they have a huge appetite for this kind of programming," he said. "We work in a dynamic business. Things change."
Grushow denied charges that "Temptation Island" was "a show that endeavors to pry apart couples," and said it was more about "people interested in exploring the strengths of their relationships."
He denied that Fox had ever said it was completely leaving the reality genre.
"We've said ... a number of times ... we're in the reality business," Grushow said. "We never said we were getting out of the reality business. Everyone's trying to react to audiences' having a huge appetite for this type of programming."
Grushow acknowledged the potential for "Temptation Island" to spin out of control, much the way "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire" did when bride Darva Conger ended up annulling her on-screen marriage to Rick Rockwell when it emerged that a former fiancee of Rockwell had obtained a restraining order against him.
"The bottom line is, when you're dealing with real people you leave yourself open to these kinds of issues," Grushow said.
Fox is a subsidiary of News Corp. Ltd. .