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Wife Swap (2003-09)

Courtesy of RDF Media

Main image of Wife Swap (2003-09)
RDF Media for Channel 4, tx. 7/1/2003 -
10+ series of 50 min editions, colour
ProductionRDF Media
CompaniesRDF Television
Series ProducersKate Brown
 Ian CarrĂ©
 Anoushka Cecil
 Jenny Crowther
 Helen Richards
 Lyn Rowet

Women from different families swap lives for two weeks.

Show full synopsis

Garnering awards and making headlines almost from its inception, Wife Swap was a phenomenal international success, with a format exported to the US, Europe and even South America. The simple but compelling premise saw women exchange homes and partners for two weeks to explore how other families lived. At its peak almost six million viewers watched as personalities clashed over issues including parenting, personal finance and, in almost every edition, the division of household labour. Though the participating couples weren't always married, the central theme of the programme was an investigation of the relationship between partners and how this dynamic affected other aspects of their lives.

Women participating in a swap entered their new houses with no details of the family they would be living with for the next two weeks. Each 'wife' wrote a manual of instructions for her replacement, but in the second week the new 'wives' were able to create their own rules. The controversial element was the casting, which selected families with very contrasting lives. Typically this strategy would see a 'traditional' housewife, used to managing childcare and domestic tasks, placed in a home where responsibilities were more equally divided. This format guaranteed that arguments about gender roles and class would ensue, while racial conflicts also sometimes arose. The programme's matter-of-fact voiceover was often in contrast to the dramatic events onscreen, while the music selected to accompany various sequences was sometimes used as an ironic commentary. Away from the often confrontational scenes, video diaries were used to give a more personal account of the way the swaps were progressing. After the swap the couples met to discuss their experiences; this element was later expanded as a spin-off, Wife Swap: The Aftermath.

In focusing entirely on life in the home, the series exposed personal and deeply held beliefs about gender roles and family structures, although this often came at the expense of attention to the women's professional as well as domestic responsibilities. Later series saw efforts to include a wider variety of participants, including gay couples and families with diverse religious beliefs. The format's flexibility led to a professional spin-off, Boss Swap (2004), the inevitable Celebrity Wife Swap (2004-09) and a series revisiting one of the outrageous families from the second series, Bed & Bardsleys (2005). After six years as a fixture on Channel Four the series was dropped in a bid to reinvigorate the schedule.

Lisa Kerrigan

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Video Clips
1. Meeting the family (1:18)
2. The new rules (2:21)
3. Money has nothing to do with it (1:43)
Complete episode (48:51)
Social Experiment TV