Channel 4 has been forced to repeatedly recast a controversial show – billed as “ground-breaking social experiment” – in which volunteers are encouraged to get married to a total stranger.
Married at First Sight has been billed as a series “which will question our assumptions about romantic love” and has already been a hit format in Denmark and the United States.
But the show’s UK version has suffered costly delays as a succession of contributors have dropped out of the production rather than go through with a contrived marriage, arranged by a panel of experts in such fields as “psychology, psychotherapy, social and evolutionary anthropology and theology”. The three couples are told they will meet for the first time at their wedding ceremony “in front of family and friends”.
Producers of the UK edition, who began work at the start of the year, are attempting to cast the show for a third time, meaning filming of the marriages will be delayed until 2015. “They just can’t get people to stick with it,” said a programme source. “The first lot of contributors fell through. Then, from the second lot of couples, one member of each couple dropped out. There’s family pressure and a lot of them get cold feet. It’s a momentous thing to do to get married to a perfect stranger. If somebody has really got cold feet you can’t force them into it. It puts the production company into difficult territory.”
The delay is frustrating for commissioners at C4, who think Married at First Sight will become addictive viewing. “It will provoke a lot of reaction,” said a source close to the show. “If we do manage to make it, it will be one of the most controversial shows Channel 4 has ever hosted.”
The show has been a ratings success in Europe and America, despite some reservations among critics. “The most obvious lesson Married at First Sight teaches us is that America is only about three to five years from greenlighting a real-life Truman Show,” said a commentator for the Washington Post.
Before the participants suffered from cold feet, the London-based production company, CPL Productions, part of the German media company Red Arrow Entertainment, hoped the couples would marry this month. The show’s format dictates that after the marriages the couples are filmed over a six-week period, culminating in a finale where they decide whether to stay together or not.
“We remain very excited about the project, it’s a very ambitious premise and it’s a calculated risk,” said Alex Menzies, commissioning editor of C4 Features.
“All we are doing is rightly taking longer to do it correctly, making sure that we fulfil our obligations in terms of duty of care both to our contributors, the integrity of the process and to the Channel 4 audience.”
He said C4 operated in a “unique regulatory landscape” in the UK and that there was a “completely different legal framework around marriage in this country”, compared to other territories where the show is being made. Married at First Sight wanted contributors who genuinely wanted a successful marriage. “We are not looking for people who are doing this because they want to be on television, we are looking for people who are doing this because they want to try a completely different tack to try and find love.”