Major changes are coming to “The Marriage Ref” as it prepares to return for its second season later this month on NBC.
This is the show where, each week, three guest celebrities hear from real-life married couples whose domestic harmony is being upended by some issue that has come between them. Since this is supposed to be a comedy show (developed by Jerry Seinfeld), the issues are not “serious,” such as infidelity and the like. They’re comedic – such as the one couple in the season premiere who are clashing over the husband’s obsession with growing giant pumpkins. The celebrity “jury” then decides either in favor of the husband or the wife.
We asked the “Marriage Ref” himself – host/comedian Tom Papa – to explain the three ways the show has changed this time around.
Change No. 1: The couples formerly appeared via satellite from their homes, but this season, they’ve been flown to New York to appear in-person. “After the first season where we had the couples on satellite and they would just kind of pop in and then pop out, we [decided to] bring them into the studio and give them equal billing. . . . Last year, by not having them in the studio, at times it felt like, Oh, these are just celebrities teeing off on regular people. And now, when you see the celebrities laughing with the couples and the couples being funny back, you realize everybody’s in on the joke.”
Change No. 2: Now there’s a $25,000 cash prize for the winning spouse who is declared the “Rightest of the Right” by the studio audience at the end of each show. Plus, the winner gets a billboard erected in their home town, announcing his or her victory. “It felt like the show needed something else. Rather than having just three couples and three separate segments, we asked, How can we tie all three couples together? And then we just came up with the idea of the ‘Rightest of the Right,’ which comes at the end of the show when [all three winning spouses appear together on stage].”
Change No. 3: Natalie Morales is gone. The “Today Show” news anchor was moonlighting as the “Marriage Ref’s” in-house “fact-checker” last season, but she’s been dropped for Season Two. “She was really great, and she’s this really great, straight-news person who had a very nice career and then we have her on this wacky show! [He laughs.] But it just felt like, you have these celebrities, everybody’s riffing, and then you would stop the action and go over to her and it didn’t help move the conversation along.”
All 10 of this summer’s “Marriage Ref” episodes have been filmed. The premiere guests are Seinfeld, Ricky Gervais and Julianne Moore. Other guests this summer include Regis Philbin, Bill Maher, Mary J. Blige, Ellen Pompeo, Kathy Griffin, Joel McHale, Colin Quinn and Tracy Morgan (before his latest controversy).
“The Marriage Ref” premieres Sunday, June 26, at 10/9c on NBC.