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ABC moves 'Wife Swap' to fall, following 'The Bachelor' on Wednesday nights


By Wade Paulsen, 06/04/2004 

When you're already mired in last place, why not throw caution to the winds?

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ABC, the Disney-owned broadcast-TV network that ranks a fading fourth among the four major U.S. networks, has announced major changes in its plans for the U.S. version of the hit British series Wife Swap, which will make the show a major player in ABC's dreams of resurrection in 2004-05.

First, the name will NOT be changed to Trading Moms, even though that name is more in keeping with the show's concept than Wife Swap, which has connotations of extramarital canoodling. Instead, the show focuses on the wives' roles as mothers and homemakers in new households (in the pilot, for example, a California vegetarian switches places with a New Jersey "neat freak," leading to "Odd Couple"-style jokes).

Second, the number of episodes planned has been expanded, from 6 to 20. Supposedly, the U.S. episodes also will not feature the "D-minus list" celebrities who have been an integral part of the U.K. series. Apparently ABC management feels that the 2003 BAFTA Award (the U.K. equivalent of the Emmy) "Best Feature" award that Wife Swap won makes it unlikely that the show will end up embarrassing the network, as its Are You Hot? reality series did in 2003.

And most importantly, Wife Swap has been moved from the summer 2004 schedule to the fall 2004 schedule, where it will hold down the important Wednesday 10 PM ET/PT slot immediately following The Bachelor. Thus, on one night, ABC will air two shows presenting images of women straight from the 1950s: first, a show in which women fight amongst themselves to marry a successful and good-looking guy (although the 0-for-5 marriage statistic for The Bachelor indicates that the show falls short of its promise), and then, women manage the housework and the children while the menfolk work. We hope the National Organization for Women isn't paying attention.

Nevertheless, due to ABC's slumping status among U.S. networks, taking a chance on Wife Swap makes sense. After all, how can ABC do worse? As Jimmy Kimmel, one of the few bright spots on the network, joked during ABC's "upfront" presentation in May, perhaps the reason that ABC's programming department wasn't interested in picking up The Apprentice (which turned into the year's biggest hit new series, but for NBC) was that "it hit too close to home... 'You're fired! You're fired!'"

The American version of Wife Swap, like the British version, will be produced by the U.K.'s RDF Media. One of the executive producers, Stephen Lambert, told The Independent that "in many ways, [Wife Swap has] worked even better [in the U.S.] than in Britain because there's such a variety of people here and Americans are good at being larger than life. We've had a multimillionairess from Manhattan swapping with a woodsman's wife from New Jersey." Hmm, it sounds like that particular episode will be a steal from The Simple Life and The Beverly Hillbillies, doesn't it?

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