Copycat or not, Fox's 'Trading Spouses' series finding ratings success
By Wade Paulsen, 08/03/2004
Who says copying is bad for you?
Through two episodes, Fox's Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy, a copycat version of ABC's upcoming Wife Swap reality series, appears to be one of the breakout hits of the summer. Although the show only had so-so ratings for its premiere, both a repeat broadcast and the second episode scored very well in the weekly Nielsens.
In its July 20 premiere, Trading Spouses managed 7.5 million total viewers, drawing a 4.6/8 rating among all households and a 3.3/11 among Adults 18-49. CBS's Navy: NCIS won the time slot with 8.6 million viewers, although it only recorded a 2.0/7 in Adults 18-49. ABC, which aired an original episode of Extreme Makeover in the time slot to dent Fox's ripoff of its original show, did better in total viewers than Fox with 7.5 million, but not as good in Adults 18-49 with 2.5/8. As a result, Fox decided to repeat the episode on Monday July 26 at 8 PM, then air episode 2 the next night -- a strategy that worked to perfection.
In its Monday repeat, the Trading Spouses premiere drew a 4.4/8 -- less than a 10% drop from its debut, translating into a total audience of 6.9 million. In addition, the show recorded a 3.3/10 among Adults 18-49 -- 97% of the audience in that demographic that watched it the previous Tuesday. It also won virtually every demographic in the Monday slot, including Adults 18-49, Adults 18-34, Adults 25-54, Teens, both Men and Women 18-49/18-34 and Men 25-54.
Fox's hope was that many of the Monday night viewers were not repeat viewers -- leading to more viewers for Tuesday night's first-run episode at 8PM ET/PT. The hope proved to be an effective strategy when the Tuesday ratings were released. This time, Trading Spouses won its time slot, with a 5.9/10 rating and 9.3 million total viewers.
In addition, Trading Spouses was a smash with Adults 18-34, scoring a 5.0/17 to rank first in the demographic among all shows broadcast during the week ending August 1. The show also was #2 for the week among Adults 18-49, with a 4.5/14 share, #8 for the week among total viewers, and #2 for the week among teens (behind only Fox's The Simple Life 2: Road Trip).
The jump in total viewers and Adults 18-49 also represents the largest increase between the first and second episodes of a reality show in at least five years (since at least before ABC's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire premiered in Summer '99). Although to be fair, many other reality shows have scored huge numbers in their second episode ratings (such as last winter's second The Apprentice episode), and it is only due to Trading Spouses' so-so initial premiere performance that it can make such a claim (after all, the lower a program's initial debut is, the easier it is to have a sharp second episode percentage increase).
Since the second episode of Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy was a continuation of the premiere, people who had seen either of the two broadcasts of the premiere would have been interested in seeing episode 2. Will people who have seen it once tune in for the second swap, taking place in the episodes of August 3 and August 10?
More interestingly to ABC, will people who have seen Fox's show, a copycat version of Wife Swap, still tune in to Wife Swap come fall? Answers to those questions will come quickly.
In the August 3 and 10 episodes of Trading Spouses, a middle-class dental hygienist and mother of two from Westfield, MA named Lisa Bowers will do a cross-country switch with the upper-class aspiring model and mother of two Samantha Pilek from Aliso Viejo, CA (a newer L.A. suburb in Orange County). Although the children in both families are only a year apart in age (Bowers family: boy, 14, and girl, 12; Pilek family: boy, 13, and girl, 11), the families are quite different. Lisa Bowers told the Boston Herald that, in her opinion, the Pileks "lead very separate, individual lives," which she tried to change with the way that she allocated the family's $50,000 reward.
Bowers was also surprised by the number of her neighbors who believed that Trading Spouses involved extramarital canoodling. We wonder how many TV viewers believe that too, and we note that Bowers told one inquisitive neighbor that, "after 28 years, if my husband could nail a hot blonde [the aspiring model Ms. Pilek], good for him!"