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Fox "borrows" another concept -- 'Trading Spouses' rips off ABC's 'Wife Swap'


By Wade Paulsen, 06/28/2004 

If Bonnie and Clyde came back today, they wouldn't have to rob banks to make a good living as thieves. Instead, they could create "new" Fox reality shows.

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Daily Variety reports that Fox is preparing a clone of ABC's Wife Swap, which it hopes to premiere by the end of summer. The ten-episode show is entitled Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy, and even its very name is reminiscent of the prior name that ABC gave to Wife Swap: Trading Moms.

Like Wife Swap, the idea of the hour-long show is to "trade moms" in two families. Each swap will take up two episodes -- one focused on the swap and one focused on the aftermath.

In its effort to avoid a lawsuit for theft of intellectual property, Fox claims that its show will sometimes feature the husbands switching places instead of the wives (however, note that the subtitle is Meet Your New Mommy, which indicates that "daddy swaps" are not going to be common) and that its show will also have prize competitions -- an idea explicitly rejected by Wife Swap producer Stephen Lambert. Nevertheless, the show's concept is such a direct steal of Wife Swap that even generally-skeptical federal judges might draw the line, if ABC decides to pursue a lawsuit.

Trading Spouses will be produced by Rocket Science Laboratories, which has become the equivalent of a Fox in-house production arm, with two huge hit shows that failed in subsequent editions (Joe Millionaire, Temptation Island) and a number of lesser titles (the just-cancelled Seriously, Dude, I'm Gay, this winter's My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance and the upcoming The Partner). Fox sources say that Rocket Science's goal is to get the first episode aired prior to Wednesday, September 29, which is the date that ABC has set for the launch of Wife Swap, so that Trading Spouses will look like the originator of this idea and Wife Swap will look like the copycat.

Fox alternative/specials exec VP Mike Darnell, the leader of what seems to be the biggest theft ring since the James Gang, said, "I've seen pieces of the first episode and the switch is hysterical. It's a fish out of water story. It's like The Simple Life meets your mother." We simply note that others have previously compared Wife Swap to The Simple Life ... since the very same concept was discussed at ABC's upfronts in May.

Trading Spouses becomes Fox's fourth reality rip-off from other networks in less than six months. As previously documented, Fox has recently cloned three Mark Burnett reality shows: NBC's The Apprentice featuring Donald Trump with the upcoming Branson's Big Adventure featuring Richard Branson, NBC's boxing competition The Contender featuring Sugar Ray Leonard and Sylvester Stallone with the upcoming boxing competition The Next Great Champ featuring Oscar de la Hoya, and CBS's Rock Star featuring INXS with a yet-untitled show featuring TLC. At least this latest theft disproves the "SOB" (Steal Only Burnett) nickname given to Fox.

In fact, according to Variety, Fox has attempted to rip off Michael Davies and Diplomatic Productions, the co-producer of Wife Swap, twice before on game shows that it produced for ABC. First, Fox challenged Davies' Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? with a very similar but short-lived show called Greed. Then, Fox took on The Chair with The Chamber -- but both shows failed. However, the battle did produce dueling lawsuits ... and we wouldn't be surprised if we have a repeat here.

For our part, we're surprised that Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch, head of media powerhouse News Corporation, would follow such an original idea as Fox News with such an unoriginal idea as the seemingly-blatant theft of other networks' intellectual property. We also hope that Fox's antics are not setting a new trend for the U.S. television industry.

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