UTV and Sony bring 'Wife Swap' to India: Is it the right time?

By Anushree Bhattacharyya , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | November 17, 2010
Going by past experience, Indian audiences are not yet ready for sensational reality shows. Nevertheless, Sony is set to bring Wife Swap - a popular UK reality show -- to India. Will the concept work?

In the past, many Hindi general entertainment channels have tried their hand at sensational reality shows, such as Pati, Patni Aur Woh, the Indian adaptation of BBC's Baby Borrowers; and Sach Ka Saamna -- the Indian version of the popular American reality show, The Moment of Truth. While Pati, Patni Aur Woh was telecast on Imagine TV (formerly NDTV Imagine), Sach Ka Saamna was aired on STAR Plus.

Both shows managed to gain enough attention, but they also ran into legal trouble and were eventually pulled off air. It appears that now, Sony has decided to walk the same line, as it readies to bring in a reality show called Wife Swap. The show is being produced by UTV and is expected to go on-air early next year.

Speaking about Wife Swap, Ajit Thakur, business head, Sony, says, "The show, while borrowed from the international format, will be designed keeping Indian values in mind. The name of the show can be misleading, but the content will be in line with Indian society and its beliefs."

Originally produced by the UK independent television production company, RDF Media, Wife Swap has been created by Stephen Lambert. The show was first aired in 2003 on UK's Channel 4. Since 2004, a US version has also been broadcast on the ABC network.

As per the international format, two families, usually from vastly different social backgrounds and lifestyles, swap wives for two weeks. During the first week, the new wife must follow exactly the same rules and lifestyle of the wife she is replacing. Each wife leaves a house manual, which explains her role and duties in the family.

During the second week, the new wives are allowed to establish their own rules, and their new families must adhere to these new household rules. At the end of the two weeks, the two couples meet for the first time; and the wives, along with their husbands, discuss how they felt about the two weeks.

Is the Indian audience ready for another sensational reality show; or will Wife Swap meet with a fate similar to that of other such shows?

Nandu Ram, professor, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, says that the concept of swapping wives might be prevalent amongst certain sections of Indian society; but people may not be happy with such a show being aired on national television. After all, Indian society is still very conservative.

Amit Kaur, counsellor, Delhi Police (Women Cell), says, "The show might find audience in the upper strata of the society, as they are aware of Western culture and lifestyle. However, the show will definitely not appeal to the masses, as it is against Indian values."

While a few sociologists feel that the average Indian is not mature enough to accept such shows; many in the trade believe that going by Sony's viewership profile, the show might get acceptance.

Amit Ray, president and COO, Lintas Media Group opines that Indian audiences are modern and are aware of Western culture and society; and Sony as a channel caters to modern India. So, it will not be difficult for the channel to find viewers for the show.

Interestingly, for Ray, the show will be an eye-opener for married couples who often crib about their spouses.

On the other hand, many feel that the show might land with the same fate as Sach Ka Saamna.

Navin Khemka, senior vice-president, ZenithOptimedia adds that from the audience's point of view, it will not be possible to go ahead with such a show, as it will generate a lot of backlash. "So far, getting married on television has been accepted; but swapping wives can be going to extreme limits. Also, in this kind of scenario, advertisers also tend to stay away from such shows."

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