BBC to make dating show controlled by children

The BBC came under fire yesterday for reneging on a pledge to ditch reality television after it commissioned a dating show from the makers of
Wife Swap in which children will pick potential partners for their single mothers or fathers.

The BBC came under fire yesterday for reneging on a pledge to ditch reality television after it commissioned a dating show from the makers of Wife Swap in which children will pick potential partners for their single mothers or fathers.

In Date My Mum... Date My Dad, the children will use speed-dating techniques to whittle a group of hopefuls down to two candidates, who will each spend a trial weekend with the family to assess whether they fit in.

Although the BBC denies the programme is a copycat formula, there are striking similarities with Wife Swap, the Channel 4 show in which women exchange husbands and families for a week.

Politicians expressed concern after the announcement that BBC1 controller Lorraine Heggessy had comissioned six 30-minute episodes of the dating show. Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda and a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said: "I just wonder whether we all pay a licence fee to see yet more people pour out their emotional entrails on the kitchen table for us all to gawp at. I thought the BBC had put this behind it."

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on culture and media, questioned whether the show was in the spirit of pledges made by the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, to abandon reality television and entertainment shows that do not have a strong public service element in favour of programmes of "excellence".

"This is hugely disappointing and frankly daft of the BBC to be entering into this, given the comments made by Mark Thompson about how they are going to move away from derivative content and ideas. Here we have got another derivative show exploiting individuals' weaknesses. The public don't want more of this stuff," Mr Foster said.

In a speech at the Edinburgh International Television Festival in August, Mr Thompson promised to weed out lifestyle and light entertainment programmes that do not have a strong public service element. He said: "In genres where the BBC does not have a paramount mission ... we have to be very sure that we really are adding something distinctive and original and valuable within each genre." He also warned of "a temptation to give in to the derivative and the tired - to move away from public value".

A BBC spokeswoman insisted that the dating show was an entirely different concept from Wife Swap, although it was being made by the same independent production company, RDF Media. "It's a different show. It's from the same company, but the whole ethos behind it is different, the spokeswoman said. "The element of someone moving in is simply for a weekend, whereas Wife Swap is for an entire week. We would dispute that it is derivative and we would dispute that it is reality television."

Grant Mansfield, the show's executive producer, who also worked on Wife Swap, said the two programmes were very different, not least because Date My Mum ... Date My Dad would be broadcast pre-watershed when it goes on air next spring. "I think this is distinctive and original," said Mr Mansfield, a divorced father. He said he expected the show would be suitable viewing for his 11-year-old son.

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