Calling Foul on 'The Marriage Ref': Top 5 Complaints
By Brooke Tarnoff Posted Mar 1st 2010 02:45PM
NBC was clearly banking on a big success with their new reality/game show 'The Marriage Ref.' With executive producer Jerry Seinfeld, an aggressive ad campaign and the strongest possible lead-in -- the 2010 Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony -- how could 'The Marriage Ref' fail?
In a sense, it didn't. The half-hour preview of 'Ref' scored 14.5 million viewers and held nearly 74% of its lead-in audience, according to The Hollywood Reporter. In comparison, a successful season of 'The Office' -- also on NBC -- snags about 8.8 million viewers per episode. While NBC might have reached its ratings goal, critical response to the premiere was harsh, to say the least. "If this is NBC's idea of how to win viewers back at 10 p.m., heaven help the poor affiliates ... that have to try and find an audience for their late newscasts on the heels of it," wrote the Baltimore Sun's David Zurawik.
We can't say we disagree. We've narrowed down the reasons we think 'The Marriage Ref' is headed for divorce -- check out the top five after the jump.
1. Jerry Seinfeld isn't the host of 'The Marriage Ref.'
Jerry Seinfeld personifies what is arguably the most successful sitcom in the history of television. Even as we laugh at their pleated jeans and dated hairstyles, we find that the comedy at the heart of 'Seinfeld' has aged like fine wine. Twelve years after the show's finale, Seinfeld returned to NBC with a concept for televised, arbitrated marital spats -- and NBC naturally bit. "Jerry has a talismanic quality at NBC," Paul Telegdy, the network's executive vice president for alternative programming, told the New York Times. Telegdy added that he would "frankly respect" Seinfeld's choice to air "a musical in 12 acts, or if he wanted to do it in the North Pole." So why not give him a role that's actually prominent to capitalize on his built-in audience?
Tom Papa, a comedian who appeared in 'The Informant' and on numerous episodes of VH1's 'I Love the __'s' franchise, has the driver's seat instead. Seinfeld has appeared in promotions for 'The Marriage Ref,' but he is merely the executive producer of the show, and will appear on the celebrity panel in only three of its nine initial episodes. Viewers tweeted their displeasure at the bait-and-switch, like CTIncognito, who wrote: "That 'Marriage Ref' show was pretty awful. One problem was the host. Who is he and why is he talking so much?"
2. NBC cut Olympics coverage short to air 'The Marriage Ref.'
We were bummed that Canada beat the U.S. hockey team too, but it's no reason to brush off the world's most accomplished athletes -- yet that's exactly what NBC did, on behalf of its squabbling spouse comedy program. NBC broadcast the Olympic Closing Ceremony live for East Coast viewers, but cut coverage of the event short to air 'Ref,' informing viewers that ceremony coverage would continue at 11:30 p.m. The New York Times' live coverage of the ceremony read: "Apparently the closing ceremony is no longer being shown on NBC or its sister channels."
As Associated Press writer David Bauder commented, "Let's just imagine if CBS had stopped the Super Bowl after three quarters to show 'Undercover Boss,' telling people to come back in an hour for the fourth quarter. Incredible that NBC would wrap a show it has high hopes for, and one of its biggest stars, in ill will." A weekly appearance by legendary sportscaster Marv Albert might not be enough to win back sports fans after that programming snafu.
3. 'The Marriage Ref' is sort of depressing.
A significant percentage of adult Americans are married, or plan to be -- but if marriage is as dreary as 'The Marriage Ref' implies, we'd rather hang out with some cats. With Papa's bleak suggestion that unmarried viewers should "find someone you can sleep next to without throwing up, and then marry them," we were treated to a half hour of couples in varying states of loathing. We laughed out loud once or twice... but hated ourselves for it immediately.
"It really is pro-marriage," said Ellen Rakieten, a former executive producer of 'The Oprah Winfrey Show,' to The New York Times. We must be missing something. The first couple fought over the taxidermied carcass of the husband's beloved dog. Though we were put off by his desire to display the body in their home, we sympathized with the husband's affection for the animal. We were taken aback when the studio audience roared with laughter as his wife -- who should have the most basic compassion for the guy she promised to love forever -- said, "The day that [dog] died was pretty much the best day of my life." Ha... ha?
4. The "expert panel" is not filled with experts.
The first episode's expert panel featured Seinfeld, happily-married talk show host Kelly Ripa and Alec Baldwin... "because when you want to find harmony in your relationships, you ask the guy who left an abusive voicemail to his daughter," writes James Poniewozik of Time.
Papa introduced the panel, saying, "In the opinion of our show, if you are, been, just got or are getting out of marriage, we consider you an expert." We appreciate their need to defend casting choices, but we can say we'd like our spleens removed by anyone who is, has been or plans to be a doctor, but that doesn't make it a good idea. Future panelists include Madonna -- not our first choice for marital advice -- and Ricky Gervais, a gentleman who doesn't even fit Papa's ridiculously loose criteria, having spent 25 loving years with a woman he never plans to marry.
"The only thing I don't want is people that don't have experience. I'm not interested in your experience -- just the perspective you gained from it," Seinfeld has said, but if the point of the show is to decide who's right, why not call them the "funny people with no unique qualifications" panel?
5. It's just not funny.
We know humor is subjective, but the people have spoken. All one needs to do is look at Twitter for a reading of the nation's temperature. Fancast editor Matt Mitovich wrote, "One day, when Nielsen finds a way to monitor Twitter snark, shows like MARRIAGE REF will get canceled WHILE IN PROGRESS."
EW Personality Michael Ausiello wrote during the broadcast, "Divorce papers have been filed. West Coasters, you've been warned."
One of our favorites came from TV viewer KevyMetalWorld : "Watching 'The Marriage Ref' makes me want to get a divorce from my television."
So there you go. A combination of badly-utilized star power, a few missteps with the basic premise and a lack of the humor we know Seinfeld can manage -- coupled with a needless diss of the world's best athletes -- put 'The Marriage Ref' on our bad side. Unless the full, hour-long premiere cleans up its act, NBC is sleeping on the couch tonight.
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