Commentary

'Wife Swap' Is Latest Reality Revival For Basic Cable

If “Temptation Island” has been revived, can “Wife Swap” be far behind?

The answer to this question is a resounding yes as TV's newfound affection for the reality TV hits of the early- to mid-’00s appears to be gaining steam.

The TV Blog first noted this nascent trend as recently as January, when USA Network was preparing to premiere its “Temptation Island” reboot.

In the weeks since then, USA was apparently so pleased with the show's performance that it has renewed it for a second season -- despite the TV Blog's best efforts to stop it (which is the usual outcome of such efforts).

Now along comes a new “Wife Swap,” due to premiere Thursday, April 4, on the Paramount Network. Like the old one that premiered on ABC in 2004 (that’s 15 years ago, folks), the new “Wife Swap” will have wives taking up temporary residence with families and husbands who are not their own.

On the old show, this arrangement led to often dramatic and uncomfortable results. But in many instances, the traded spouses learned valuable lessons about themselves and the sometimes dysfunctional ways in which they were managing their own families.

At some point in the evolution of the original “Wife Swap,” it veered off into “Celebrity Wife Swap” territory with various C- and D-list celebrities trading places. Who can forget the time Andy Dick switched residences with Lorenzo Lamas? Maybe you can, but I can't!

Certainly, the participation of celebrities -- either eventually or at the outset -- was a hallmark of the Golden Age of Reality Television, from “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!” (yes, there was such a show) to “The Celebrity Apprentice” (and we all know how that one turned out).

All things considered, basic cable's infatuation with some of the better-remembered reality-TV brands of a decade and more ago makes a certain amount of sense. Basic cable is bursting with unscripted shows, so why not add a few whose titles and scenarios are instantly recognizable?

TLC has already done this on weekends with the return of “Trading Spaces,” which will soon be followed by a revival of “While You Were Out,” a stealth-decoration show that first aired from 2002-06.

What else deserves a redo from the graveyard of old reality TV shows? Well, for some reason, the show called “The Littlest Groom” keeps coming to mind in this context. The original was a two-night special on Fox in 2004 that followed a bachelor -- a dwarf -- as he searched for love among a group of bachelorettes, both dwarfs and non-dwarfs.

The show was criticized at the time, but in the ensuing 15 years, plenty of “little people” series have come and gone -- including some that have been acclaimed.

Another genre that seems ripe for revival is the “nanny” reality show, typified by “Supernanny,” which aired from 2005 to 2011 on ABC. This was the show featuring a tough-but-lovable British nanny, Jo Frost, who was seen corralling and then taming incorrigible kids whose clueless parents had given up on controlling their children.

The element that made this show irresistible was the spectacle of these children misbehaving in often shocking ways, while their parents disavowed all responsibility for enabling them. Parents who agreed to put their out-of-control children on display on TV in this way were often criticized for doing so. But the show scored consistently strong ratings for a number of years.

Despite such criticism, the TV Blog believes there would be no shortage of parents who would agree to volunteer their children for this show, especially if they think Nanny Jo can do something about their kids' behavior.

After all, A&E just brought back “Hoarders,” and there seems to be no shortage of these people either.

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