Fox zeroes in on "Bad Dads"

Wed Apr 23, 2008 10:20pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - After embracing the dark side of reality television with its marriage-busting hit "The Moment of Truth," Fox is taping the power of its unscripted division for the forces of good.

The network has ordered a pilot in which an avenger of penniless single mothers hunts down deadbeat dads and forces them to pay child support.

Jim Durham, director of the National Child Support Center, functions as a sort of "Dog the Bounty Hunter" for tracking deadbeats. In the pilot, a financially destitute mom is contrasted with her wealthy ex-husband, who is living the high life. Durham confronts the man at his country club to shake him down in front his friends. It's ambush reality TV -- but for a noble cause.

"(Durham) calls them on the phone and gives them the chance to do the right thing," said executive producer JD Roth ("The Biggest Loser," "Beauty and the Geek"). "Of course, those calls are never met with anything but yelling. Then he goes into their life, finds out what kind of assets they have and makes their lives miserable -- foreclose on their house, repossess their car. He will squeeze them until the women get paid."

Roth sold the idea to Fox with the title "Deadbeat Dads." But Fox president of alternative entertainment Mike Darnell famously concocts his own catchy titles for his shows. ("Nothing but the Truth" became "The Moment of Truth," and "Do You Remember 5th Grade?" morphed into "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?") Darnell has rechristened "Deadbeat Dads" with the very-Fox working title "Bad Dads."

"It's a show that depicts the sacrifice and heartache of incredibly brave women on behalf of their kids and then ends in the most gratifying way possible -- justice for these women," Roth said.

Sluggish government agencies often fail to persuade financially liable fathers to pay child support. Durham's National Child Support Center is one of several collection agencies that serve as a last resort for neglected single mothers.

Some critics say such companies do more harm than good. Child support collectors have come under fire for charging steep fees and using ultra-aggressive tactics. Durham bills his clients 34% of whatever he collects.

Roth counters that Durham's clients typically feel so abandoned by the court system that they're relieved to get any money at all. Plus, he said Durham is the only collector who extracts interest owed on the outstanding debt, so his clients often receive more money than if the absent dads had simply paid their bills.

As for the aggressive tactics, child support is not considered a debt per se, but an order of the court. Collectors are therefore not subject to following the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which regulates what tactics a collection agency can employ to collect a debt.

"I'm hoping that eventually this show changes how courts see deadbeat dads and how moms have to deal with it," Roth said.

If greenlighted to series, "Bad Dads" will provide Fox a fresh take on the law enforcement reality show, a genre the network pioneered with such Saturday night staples as "Cops" and "America's Most Wanted."

"I've seen 'Cops,' and I want to watch more than a crack addict with his pants around his ankles running away from a police car," Roth said. "These guys owe money, and they should pay."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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