NEXT 'JOE MILLIONAIRE' PACKS A PUNCH - YOUR NEW WIFE

By DON KAPLAN
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February 19, 2003 --

HOW do you top "Joe Millionaire"? The answer may be a show about arranged marriages - with TV viewers deciding who should get married.

"Married by America," set to debut on Fox in two weeks, begins with five single people and a group of suitors, all with an itch to get hitched.

During the first three episodes (there are seven in all), a small group of potential mates will be picked - with the help of a relationship expert, friends and family - for each contestant.

Then from the narrowed-down fields, viewers will vote on who will couple up with whom. That's the engagement phase.

But there's a twist.

After the vote, the couples have to propose - or be proposed to - without ever seeing each other.

The women will get their rings by shoving their hands through a curtain - "or something," says a network source, they're not quite sure yet - during the show's third episode.

Only after that will the couples actually lay eyes on each other for the first time.

Over the next five weeks, the five couples move in together, meet each other's friends and families and prepare for their weddings - slated to take place in early April.

For the grand finale, the couples go back to the "Married" studio to exchange vows, dump each other or ask for more time.

If they want to get married, the show will perform and air the wedding on the spot.

The show is meant to spark a national, water-cooler debate on who ought to be with whom - and naturally whether or not which couples should get married after a whirlwind, five-week courtship.

Fox is a division of News Corp., which also owns The Post.