Will ABC hit mother lode with 'Swap?'

Family Matters

March 14, 2004|By Susan Reimer

THERE IS NO parent-child scene more common than the one in which the child hotly declares that he wants to live under the more generous rule of a different mother.

This demand is almost always followed by the mother bitterly granting her permission.

"Fine," she will say. "Go ahead. I'll help you pack. Just see if life is so much better in that family."

These trades are rarely consummated in real life, but television is not real life and it looks like some kids will get their wish on ABC.

The network is currently shooting an adaptation of the hit British seriesWife Swap, though it will have the slightly less swingin' title of The Swap for American TV.

Mothers of wildly different circumstances will trade families for 10 days or two weeks, including diets, child-rearing and housekeeping standards, and cameras will be there to record the fallout.

(An ABC spokesperson says some Maryland families have been selected for the show, though it isn't certain yet whether they will make the final cut.)

The show is such a hit in Britain that production companies in Germany, Hungary and Austria have pirated the idea, and it has a growing list of spin-offs:

Boss Switch, Master and Servants, Holiday Showdown, Trust Me, I'm a Teen-ager, Take My Mother-in-Law and Faking It are all about the tension that results when people trade places, roles and comfort zones.

The Swap isn't about trading sex partners. If it were only about the bedroom, it would be simple.

This is about families trading the mothers, the captains of the domestic ship. This is about every room in the house except the bedroom.

I can see it now. These families aren't going to like the way the new mom makes spaghetti sauce, let alone how she stumbles around inside someone else's carefully constructed domestic routines.

Nothing's so easy to ignore but so quickly missed as the comfortable certainty of dear old mom.

The British version of this show tries to upgrade the spectacle by bringing the couples back together to talk about what they learned from the experience, and there are confessional scenes where the husbands admit they can help out a little more around the house, or whatever.

My guess is, the men come to the same conclusion women have been reaching over bottles of wine for generations: "I wouldn't stay married to her husband for 10 minutes."

There is something about the devil you know.

But I suggest that the American version focus on the kids, and what they learn from having a substitute mom.

I think they'll find out what mothers have been saying for generations is true:

"You don't know how good you have it."

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