ABC moving ahead with plans to bring British 'Wife Swap' show to U.S.
By Wade Paulsen, 08/14/2003
The reality TV invasion from Europe continues unabated. CBS's Survivor is adapted from the Swedish show Expedition: Robinson; Fox's American Idol is a clone of the British smash Pop Idol (complete with judge Simon Cowell); CBS's Big Brother comes from the Netherlands by way of Britain ... even Fox's Paradise Hotel comes from Britain. Now The Guardian reports that ABC is ready to go forward with the smash hit British show Wife Swap, which we reported in January was in the casting process.
According to British producer Stephen Lambert and the original article, Wife Swap is about just that: wives swap places, husbands and families for the 10-day run of the show. During the first five days, the swapped wives must live by the rules of the family that they've joined; halfway through, they are allowed to set new rules for the family. The focus of the show is how both families react during and after the experience. However, Lambert said that a grand finale in which the two families meet to compare notes didn't satisfy the ABC execs, who wanted the show to play more like a game: "But for America, it's like, 'Then what happens? They meet, and one family, like, wins a prize?' "
Although the producers say that the role-swapping that goes into Wife Swap is limited to household duties, not bedroom activities (we wonder if an infrared bedroom camera is included, as in Temptation Island, to verify that), we find ourselves amazed that some network exec would think that a prize could be handed out for successful wife-swapping. (If it could be, we have little doubt that Jerry Springer would already be offering one.) But then, it's also hard for us to understand Lambert's spin that Americans don't understand the sensibilities of a program like Wife Swap and so the show will have to be "dumbed down" for U.S. broadcast. We think we understand the concept of wife-swapping as well as we need to, thank you very much ... and we also think that ABC needs to be careful that Wife Swap doesn't end up on its wall of shame, right next to Are You Hot?
One of the problems in adopting Wife Swap to the U.S., which Lambert doesn't address among his snide comments in the article, is that, like a previous ABC reality flop that originated in the U.K., I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!, the show apparently features "D-minus-list" celebrities. For example, an upcoming Wife Swap has Jade Goody, who became famous for her dingbat questions (such as "What's a sparagus"?) on the U.K. Big Brother, and Diana Ingram, the wife of infamous U.K. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? cheat Charles Ingram, trading places. (And, since Jade and her husband, TV host Jeff Brazier, have apparently split up since then, it should garner huge U.K. ratings.) Another show pairs up ex-madcap comic Freddie Starr (still in the process of re-marrying his third wife) with ex-Buck's Fizz singer Cheryl Baker. Whether such fare would work in the U.S. is problematic at best.
However, it looks like at least one of the Wife Swaps will feature a real cultural shift -- and this may well be the episode designed to introduce this show to Americans. Ananova.com reports that RDF is looking for a London family with children at least 10 years old for a wife swap with a wealthy New Jersey family. We admit that the difference in lifestyle (and women's roles) between an American and British family has the potential to produce an interesting story arc.
The article also lists several upcoming British reality shows making the cross-pond trip. Lambert, head of RDF Media, has already been responsible for TLC's Scrapheap Challenge and Faking It U.S.A. plus ABC Family's Perfect Match; new RDF shows include Lifetime's My Best Friend's Wedding and Spike TV's Ultimate Bachelor Pad, plus a non-reality game show entitled Face Off for Court TV.
It appears American Idol creator Simon Fuller is also keeping busy. In addition to American Juniors, currently drawing disappointing numbers on Fox, Fuller has three more music-oriented series under development: (1) another talent show, All American Girl, for ABC; (2) Second Chance, a talent show for washed-up pop stars, for Fox; and (3) an updated version of The Monkees, for NBC.
We find the idea of an updated Monkees particularly intriguing, especially since the original series featured songs from a number of top songwriters: Neil Diamond, Carole King, Boyce and Hart, and Mike Nesmith among others. We find ourselves skeptical as to whether Simon Fuller can entice similar talent to contribute songs to a remake. Perhaps Mr. Fuller will first need to produce American Songwriting Idol: The Search for America's Top Young Songwriters?