Couples compete for chance to be married on TV ITV game show sets couples up for wedding

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Media Correspondent

ITV yesterday defended its decision to use a game show in which engaged couples compete to get married on air as a key weapon in its battle for Saturday night ratings this winter.

The Shane Richie Experience, to start in March, will be a family show in which "the act of marriage is totally sacrosanct", Marcus Plantin, ITV's network director, said as he announced the winter schedules.

But industry observers believe the series represents a new low for ITV. "Tacky, tacky, tacky," one senior BBC insider said.

A spokesman for Granada said yesterday that all the contestants had been chosen, and recording was due to start in the new year.

Each week, three engaged couples will battle for the privilege of being married by a registrar in a hospitality suite at Granada's Manchester studios, with the reception held in the Rover's Return on the Coronation Street set. The successful couple also wins a free honeymoon.

The August pilot featured competitions such as "Getting to Know You", in which the would-be brides were tested about their partner's underwear. Other tests included questions about the most unusual place that the couples had "made whoopee".

One contest involved the women, dressed as jockeys, sitting astride a mechanised hen firing eggs which their fiances - dressed as stags - tried to catch in their antlers. In another game, the women kissed men sporting false beards in an attempt to identify their partner.

Mr Plantin defended the show, saying: "It will be constructed in such a way that there really can't be any sense of bad feeling about what we believe that act of marriage to be."

Executives at the ITV network centre also revealed a belief which will surprise some viewers - that they did not believe the channel was offering enough police shows.

Nick Elliott, controller of drama, said that while he felt that hospital themes were at saturation point, he would like more police drama. "We have lost, or are losing, Cracker, Prime Suspect and The Chief. We are making many fewer police shows than two years ago," he said.

New dramas on ITV this winter include Call Red, featuring a helicopter rescue team, Bodyguards, a one-hour drama, Thief Takers, set in the Metropolitan Police's armed robbery squad, and The One That Got Away, the true story of a Special Air Service patrol behind enemy lines during the Gulf war.