The hourlong unscripted show sprang from the real-life marriage of executive producer Seinfeld, who once asked a friend to arbitrate a silly fight between him and his wife Jessica, who was in yesterday's audience. (For the record, Seinfeld says, he lost, and had to accept the friend's binding decision.)
He decided to turn the idea into a show, in which 3 to 5 real-life couples per episode will be videotaped at home, having the typical types of arguments that couples -- and yes, despite our supposed "alternate lifestyle," we gays, too -- have that run for years and tend to fester. One show, he explained, will show a wife whose husband prefers to park his Harley in the middle of the living room. Other issues may be less glaring. But in order not to trivialize or be flippant about serious issues like domestic abuse and child endangerment, none of the shows, the comedian emphasized, will go near issues "that makes you uncomfortable that the marriage might be in real trouble."
In the show's format, a panel of celebrity guests discusses each couple's video, and makes a case for one or the other of the complainants to judge Tom Papa, whose sole decision will be binding. And says Papa, a comedian whose previous TV work includes the short-lived (and New Jersey-set) 2004 NBC sitcom Come to Papa, his decision won't always be the obvious one. In the case of the Harley couple, for example, Papa hints that he may have found in favor of the husband. "She's yelling at him, 'You have a Harley in the living room!' And he's like, 'I understand that, dear.' He was so nice to her. I was like, 'What he is doing is completely insane, but how respectful is this guy? He's got to get points.'"
And of course, with the court case challenging Prop 8 about to begin here in California, it was on everyone's mind: For the Marriage Ref's services, what about gay marriages?
"Oh yeah, they're in," Seinfeld enthused.
"If you're married and you're fighting, send your tape," Papa added.
Not that there's anything wrong with that!
(The Marriage Ref will air a special sneak preview on Sunday, February 28, following NBC's coverage of the Closing Ceremony of the Winter Olympics, before settling into its regular Sunday time slot, from 8 to 9 PM beginning March 14.
The show will shoot episodes in New York starting Wednesday, January 27. So if you need help figuring out who should take out the garbage, call Jerry!)