Seinfeld, Endemol bring ‘Marriage Ref’ to the game at MIPCOM

The Marriage Ref, a new unscripted entertainment format from Endemol co-exec produced by comedy star Jerry Seinfeld and former Oprah Winfrey Show producer Ellen Rakieten, received its international unveiling yesterday at MIPCOM.
October 7, 2009

The Marriage Ref, a new unscripted entertainment format being rolled out through Endemol and co-exec produced by comedy star Jerry Seinfeld and former Oprah Winfrey Show producer Ellen Rakieten, received its international unveiling yesterday at MIPCOM. Rakietan and Seinfeld appeared at a presser with Endemol chief commercial officer Tom Toumazis to discuss the American debut of the show, produced by Shed Media in the US and due to air on NBC in March, 2010, as well as its international potential.

‘I’m enjoying the way this idea seems to have smoothly crossed borders,’ said Seinfeld, who made the trip to Cannes to help promote the format to international suitors. ‘Comedy by definition is very specific… (but) the experience of the couples is universal.’

‘Feedback’s been phenomenal,’ said Toumazis about the international reception to the show. Today, Endemol announced the first international deals for the show, with the Abu Dhabi Media Company acquiring the NBC version while also commissioning a local version to be produced by Endemol Middle East. Endemol also expects to announce more deals for the format that have been closed during the market imminently, and is bullish on the possibilities. ‘We can’t think of anywhere in the world where this show can’t work.’

The Marriage Ref will feature three or four couples per episode, with fly-on-the-wall cameras documenting real arguments between the spouses. A panel of judges will then dissect and analyze the squabbles, with the Ref then deciding upon the ‘winning’ spouse. Panelists will include celebs, sports figures and the like, while the Ref will be someone chosen from the U.S. comedy trenches, to be chosen by Seinfeld. As for the couples themselves, casting calls have been taking place throughout the U.S., with the producers saying gay and straight couples will take part.

The identity of the Ref has not yet been solidified for the U.S. debut, but Seinfeld said it would be a similar process for any international roll-outs. But don’t look for Seinfeld to take a role in front of the camera. ‘I don’t need the attention,’ he remarked.

All three panelists emphasized the entertainment value of the show, saying it’s not intended to duplicate typical reality show formulas of tension and conflict. As a former Oprah producer, Rakieten said one of her biggest challenges in dealing with the show’s sensitive subjects was having guests cancel at the last minute; With The Marriage Ref, ‘People want to come on the show.’ Seinfeld quipped that the show’s central focus would be on ending the perpetual cycles of bickering that couples find themselves in. ‘The idea is to end the dialogue,’ he said. ‘Someone needs to make the call and get it over with.’

Still, Seinfeld said his experience with The Marriage Ref hasn’t necessarily whetted his appetite for further dalliances with unscripted formats. ‘I seem to do things, try to do them well, and then never do them again,’ he joked.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.