ABC's Naughty New Reality Series
Fri Jan 24, 5:00 PM ET
By Lia Haberman
"Take my wife, please." That's the refrain coming from ABC programming execs this week.
The Alphabet net is casting for a new reality series based on a hit British show called Wife Swap. While it's not quite the swingers' scene viewers might expect, the kooky concept might have some family-friendly critics up in arms.
Wife Swap features two women who trade husbands, kids and homes for 10 days.
The women are expected to follow the house rules for the first week--sticking to the cleaning, cooking and child-rearing schedule set by the original woman of the house. The new wife can then lay down her own set of rules the following week.
While they swap spouses the women don't actually sleep with each other's partners.
"It's a good title," said Michael Davies, one of the show's executive producers, "but it's got nothing to do with swinging '70s wife-swapping parties."
In fact, the original title has been toned down during its trans-Atlantic crossing to The Swap, but the concept remains the same: a social experiment that Davies calls a nightmare or fantasy scenario. "We can all relate to what would happen if our mother or wife left the house and we inherited someone else."
And what if a woman refuses to fill her predecessors housecoat and slippers and (gasp) shirks her housecleaning duties? "It's not like we're going to throw her out of the house or suspend her or fine her," said Davies. "It would cause a conflict and then maybe one of the kids would go do it."
The network has set up a hotline to field calls from Southern California couples who are convinced the grass must be greener down the street: 818-817-5505.
In England, the pilot episode, produced by Junkyard Wars' RDF Media, featured the pairing of Dee, who disapproves of mixed-race couples, and Lance, a black man who calls the shots in his house. The mismatched couple's inevitable friction became the water cooler topic du jour.
This week's episode, which attracted nearly 6 million viewers up from the 3.7 million who watched the premiere, featured a family swap between a working wife with one kid and a stay-at-home mom with six children.
The show, which debuted two weeks ago in Britain, has become a ratings winner for Channel Four (bearing in mind the country's much smaller TV audience) and has already been signed on for a second season there.
At this time there are no plans for a male spinoff because, "a lot of times when a man leaves the house nobody notices," said Davies.
The domestic strife series is just one of the many unscripted shows to broadcast on American airwaves this year.
With the mid-season success of American Idol, Joe Millionaire and The Bachelorette the genre will continue to be flogged until viewers put down their remotes in protest.
On Wednesday, Fox's 90 minute installment of American Idol attracted 24.9 million viewers, the network's highest rated night ever, excluding sporting events. ABC's The Bachelorette drew a respectable 13.4 million viewers, while Fox's two-faced Joe Millionaire continues to reel 'em in with nearly 19 million viewers this week.