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the marriage ref

No Soup for The Marriage Ref

In yesterday's Times, NBC all but admitted that they were so desperate to be back in the Jerry Seinfeld business that they'd have happily paid him a giant sum of money for pretty much any stupid old idea:


"Jerry has a talismanic quality at NBC," said Paul Telegdy, the network’s executive vice president for alternative programming. Mr. Telegdy added that he would "frankly respect" Mr. Seinfeld’s wishes if he wanted to make the show “as a musical in 12 acts, or if he wanted to do it in the North Pole."

It's too bad R. Kelly doesn't have that kind of pull with Paul Telegdy or last night we might've watched a dozen new North Pole–set chapters of Trapped in the Closet in prime time. Instead we got the premiere of The Marriage Ref, which was kinda terrible.

On the show, real-life arguing couples plead their cases on video before a panel of celebrity judges (guests for the premiere were Seinfeld, who'll appear on the first three episodes, Alec Baldwin, and Kelly Ripa), and marriage ref Tom Papa, who has final say on their disputes. Also, Natalie Morales is there, for some reason. We'd been under the vague impression the show would feature real arguments, but last night the panel deliberated on completely made-up seeming ones in which one husband wanted to install a stripper pole in his house ("It's an exercise pole!"), and another one wanted to stuff his dead dog and mount it for display (verdicts: It was a no on the stripper pole, and the dog had to go in the attic).

It's an interesting experiment in demographic combining — Ref gives us red-state, Wife Swap–ish reality-TV antics plus commentary from Hollywood's liberal elite — but the fusion of the hacky, lamely edited video segments and hilarious booking of the smuggest-possible celebrities (Madonna, Larry David, and Ricky Gervais will sit on the same panel for an upcoming episode) seems guaranteed to turn off everybody. Including us! Last night the panel was way too amused with their own jokes (though Alec Baldwin was funny, as always), and we're not sure how the disputes could possibly have seemed more contrived.

Owing to its having the Olympics' closing ceremony as a lead-in, Ref's premiere was watched by 14.5 million viewers, which means practically nothing. But now the show moves to Thursdays at 10, following 30 Rock, where we'd imagine ratings will drop to levels more typical of other NBC programming and we'll need never speak of this again.

In case you missed it, here's last night's episode:

A Show About Something: Marriage [NYT]
'Marriage Ref' opens strong, but can't topple 'Boss' [Live Feed/HR]

Photo: Patrick Harbron/NBC