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In New Show, Couples Will Have Arranged Marriages

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Primetime television just keeps on getting better by the minute. Arranged marriage is the concept of a new reality show that CBS just purchased - news that got out about the show yesterday. It's produced by the folks who created "Top Chef" and "Project Runway." Here's the idea: Set up four couples in arranged marriages, and then watch as the new romances blossom or fizzle before our eyes. James Poniewozik is our go to primetime guy. He's television critic for Time Magazine. Welcome to the program, once again.

Mr. JAMES PONIEWOZIK (Television Critic, Time Magazine): Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: "Arranged Marriage" - tell us about this program.

Mr. PONIEWOZIK: Well, you know, reality TV lives and dies on the premise. So, well, reality TV has been hooking people up for a while, right? "The Bachelor" is essentially a marriage arranged by reality TV show. You know, FOX did "Married by America" a while ago. And the eternal game in reality TV is: What can you do to up the last premise that will get people's attention even more? So, in this case, you've got four people - ranging in age from 25 to 45 - who are going to be fixed up with somebody by their loved ones. And they will actually marry, and the series is going to follow their marriages.

SIEGEL: So this show begins - like I'm writing a promo - this show begins where the other reality shows ends: At the marriage.

Mr. PONIEWOZIK: Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PONIEWOZIK: I think you just bumped up their ratings another million viewers.

SIEGEL: Will there be judges? Or, famously married people? Or, people who've been married a lot who will judge how they doing?

Mr. PONIEWOZIK: Not to my knowledge. Most of the details of the production have been kept pretty under wraps, but it doesn't seem to be structured as that kind of competition-type show. We're not having 10 brides set up and eliminated one by one, you know, by the judges, or America, or whatever. The idea is to be that marriages are arranged - well, the way that traditional arranged marriages are - by people who know the parties involved. And then, from there the series is supposed to see how well they do.

SIEGEL: How a big piece of CBS's future does CBS hope "Arranged Marriage" would be?

Mr. PONIEWOZIK: You know, frankly, I think that networks had not been relying as much on reality shows to, sort of, anchor their regular primetime schedules as they were a few years ago. CBS is certainly doing much better than, say, for instance, NBC, which is having just terrible troubles. I don't believe they've announced scheduling for this, but this is a sort of show that they might see holding down, say, their summer schedule, when a lot of scripted shows aren't in production and they need one of those big buzz reality shows to keep the lights on.

SIEGEL: Has anyone, I realize it's only been a day of hearing about all this, but has anybody raised any - there is a sense, on the context of primetime television - any ethical concerns about creating marriages which might actually produce children, say, essentially for the purposes of primetime ratings, you know?

Mr. PONIEWOZIK: Yeah. I mean, I've seen a lot of online comment - no formal complaints that are, you know, FCC-type complaints, that I know of so far - but a lot of chatter out there is saying that, you know, this is exploitative, this is TV sinking to a new low. It's the sort of thing that comes up whenever you have a really provocative premise like this. And, frankly, it's part of the reason that you have provocative premises like this is that you build so much buzz in advance. And, I tend to think, that with a show like this, it's all about the execution. Which is to say: You could do this show in a way that it's really horrible and crass and exploitative, and you could do this show in a way that it's, you know, interesting and thought-provoking, and, actually, treats people involved in it with respect.

SIEGEL: Well, we'll stay tuned.

Mr. PONIEWOZIK: I certainly will.

SIEGEL: Well, James, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. PONIEWOZIK: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's James Poniewozik who is TV critic for Time Magazine, talking about the newly announced reality show on CBS Television, soon, called "Arranged Marriage." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.