Screen Savors: Sharing their secret

Concealed identity, hidden millions, American pretension and/or British sincerity are all part of the reality series 'Secret Millionaire.'

Our front hall could use a coat of paint and we're still waiting to fix the glass of our cloakroom door. Yes, we could stand a visit from Secret Millionaire, currently airing in its UK and US versions on Channel 8. The basic premise removes a millionaire from his or her regular lifestyle and then thrusts them into entirely different settings, where he or she must make do under far inferior conditions. After a week to 10 days, the millionaire reveals his or her true identity and then determines to which places and people he or she will make substantial donations. In the original and superior version Nick Leslau, an English commercial property magnate, was shipped from posh London to the despondent Glasgow, Scotland. "I'm keen to explore who I am without having the crutch of wealthy Nick," he said as his wife helped him pack up. So there he was, in a neighborhood so bad "you have to be born there to want to stay there," his cabdriver warned. "This truly is horrible," he declared of his new quarters, where a spot on the rug could have been either "gum or vomit." Posing as part of a film crew making a documentary on voluntary organizations Nick met the real people in need, including Ronnie. Disabled, she helps to provide clubs and classes for a community center she runs. Before he knew it, Nick was peeling carrots, working all kinds of jobs and getting to know the people, including a woman who touchingly describes how she lost her eyesight. He also spent time cleaning up manure at a riding school for the disabled. "There aren't any people on this trip I would have chosen to talk to. I'd have walked over to the other side of the street with most of them," admits Nick afterwards. "The brutal reality is that I would have been prejudiced against everyone I've met." Nick comes across as sincere, particularly in his discussions with Andrew, a young man who has lost his vision. Nick says that people have stopped talking to Andrew "because they're ignorant bastards." He then met Marian. An even more troubling case, she's a shut-in who lives with cat excrement collecting in her kitchen. More aware of the have-nots, Nick fears revulsion at his real lifestyle because, "I have so much and these people have so little," he says, observing that life is about "the roll of the dice." Nick's sincere reevaluation of his life gives this gritty series its touching side. When he writes Andrew a check for the seeing-eye dog foundation, he also includes one for a season's pass to the Glasgow Rangers where this blind fan can feel just like the other supporters. He leaves the volunteer center to a great compliment by one member saying that, "We loved you with or without your money." "My life will be the same, but what I do in my life will change," says Nick, during a return visit. He's a changed man and the program offers a real sense of one person helping others. THE US version is laughable. The episode we caught had Todd and Gwen Graves driving down from their fancy Baton Rouge digs to Buras, Louisiana to help those still rebuilding after Katrina. Attempting to "blend in," the Graves live in a trailer but drive a fancy SUV. "I've started to realize real quick that everybody down here has lost everything," says Todd. Heavvvvy. Wife Gwen's not the brightest crayon in the box, either. "I just think it's amazing - the people we're meeting and what they give to help other people," she says. Like, duh. The worst part is when Todd, who's "been humbled by this experience," and Gwen dress up in fancy duds and jewelry to dole out their checks, with too much crying, flashbacks and other sudsy stuff. Then, greeted by their three kids upon their return, Todd pronounces, "Home is where people get their strength from." Yuck. Still, it's encouraging to see that there are those out there willing to share what they have with those less fortunate. We heartily recommend catching the series, preferably the UK version, if only to see that we all can do some good, even if we're not secret millionaires. Secret Millionaire airs on Channel 8 (HOT) at various times throughout the week.