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From The Farms to the farm Baker selected for ABC's 'Wife Swap'

Monday, October 18, 2004

(Photo)
The Baker family - Richard, Christie, Mary Jewels, Maurie and Margo - will appear on ABC's 'Wife Swap' at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
So, you're sitting in the doctor's office, looking through the usual stack of magazines when this ad just jumps out at you:

"'Wife Swap' is looking for families to trade places."

What do you do?

You'll see the results this Wednesday.

The episode featuring the swap of Dyersburg's Christie Baker with a dairy farmer's wife in upstate New York will air at 9 p.m. on ABC.

*

When "Wife Swap" premiered in 2003 in the United Kingdom, it was an instant television phenomenon.

Devised and created by Stephen Lambert, "Wife Swap" provides two wives the chance to see if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

For 10 days, they hand over the keys to their homes and switch families - but not bedrooms. During the first week, the wives move in and adopt their new family's lifestyle, agreeing to follow The Household Manual which was written by the departing wife and sets out the rules of the household - how they parent, shop, do housework and manage budgets and their social lives. During the second week, the tables are turned and the new wives take charge, introducing their own set of rules, running the household their way.

At the end of the hour-long show, the two couples are reunited and meet their counterparts for the first time, having the chance to exchange views, make assessments and talk about what they learned over the last two weeks.

Executive producers of "Wife Swap" are Lambert, Jenny Crowther and Michael Davies, who brought "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" to American television. Wendy Roth is the co-executive producer.

"Wife Swap" is an RDF Media production. It currently airs around the world and has been sold as an acquisition or format to more than 20 international territories.

*

Richard and Christie Baker had dated for three weeks and were engaged for three months before marrying 19 years ago. Richard, originally of Dyersburg, works at Ford Construction. Christie, originally of Dresden, is the marketing director/chef at Colby's Market. They have three daughters, now-17-year-old twins Maurie and Margo and now-12-year-old Mary Jewels.

It was the beginning of January when Christie saw the "Wife Swap" ad while sitting in the office of Dr. Robert Harrington.

"I love reality shows and this one got the whole family involved, not just one or two members," she said.

Once she got home, Christie got on the Internet, learned more about the show and went online to apply, submitting a family picture taken on Christmas Eve.

"It wasn't a week later," when she was running an errand and the phone rang.

"The plumbers were here and answered it. They said they were from RDF Media and wanted to talk to Mrs. Baker," she said. "The plumber said if it was a marketing thing that I wouldn't be happy. They just said for me to call."

When Christie got the message, "we thought it was a crank call," said Mary Jewels, "and she said, 'Weelll.' And we were like, 'What did you do!?"

By that point, Christie had some 'xplainin' to do.

"I just applied, I didn't tell Richard," she said. "There was no telling how many thousands and thousands and thousands of applications they'd received."

After she told her family what the call was about, "I was too shocked to think," Richard said. "I did think I was gonna kill her. I wondered what the cells were like in the Dyer County Jail."

After learning that RDF was interested in the family for "Wife Swap," the Bakers had to prepare a 30-minute video showing their lifestyle.

"Iris Harrington - the Harringtons keep coming into it - had a wine-and-cheese party that night at Frames, Etc., so Angela Brunson taped us at it and when we got back home, Richard and I had 30 questions we had to answer for them," Christie said.

After the tape was overnighted to ABC, she began to get excited.

"There was no telling the number (of people) they'd called (for the show)," she said.

For a couple of weeks, it was business as usual, and then Christie received an e-mail from RDF saying "they were very interested. We talked for a long time about what I liked and didn't, the best and worst places I'd want to go. The best was Buckingham Palace. The worst was a dairy farm, any farm; I can't stand places that smell. I told them the Top 30 things to do in Dyer County."

After that, "I called like every day to see if they'd heard anything," Christie said. "Then they really got talking."

Over the next few weeks, "they were looking for a place to send me" and Christie learned more about the premise of the show.

*

Casting, taping, editing, every aspect of "Wife Swap" is done by RDF. The casting process is intensive and for one episode can take a matter of weeks or several months.

"We're extremely picky about our casting and our families because the show is entirely made by the casting," Lambert said. "It's an unusual kind of casting - it's less of a casting call-out and much more about us going out and finding people. We're looking for two families who've actually got to work together in the episode."

And in looking at the families, "we hold the husbands up and say, 'Would Jodi have ever married Brad? Would Lynn have ever married Steve? If the answer's yes, we don't cast them together," Crowther said.

While there is a small payment for being part of "Wife Swap," Lambert said "the reward is the hope that your relationship will be stronger as a result of taking part in the show.

"People take part in the show because it's an adventure," he said. "We talk about the fact that going to live someone else's life will give you a chance to see the way in which they live their lives and it might help you reflect on the way in which your family works. Because at the heart of the show is really the notion that what's normal for one family, another family will find completely abnormal, possibly downright strange."

Because of that reflection, episodes are "much more about a contrast in values," Lambert said. "It's much more about the way in which a particular family runs its particular life."

Casting, he added, isn't just about finding the right people to fit in with the premise but that those people trust RDF.

"There is the judgment of making sure they're right for the program but a lot of it is about an act of trust," he said. "I think they only take part because they feel comfortable and trust the people they're dealing with. It's much more in that sense like a documentary than it is like a game show."

*

Around April 9, Christie and Maurie were at home on a rainy day when the phone rang.

"They said, 'We love you.' I said, 'I love ya'll, too!'" Christie said.

"We got out the Rolodex and called everybody we knew," Maurie said.

"It was crazy from then on," Christie said.

Over the next couple of weeks, the Bakers "took every test imaginable - drugs, diseases, a psychiatrist came and talked to each of us and Richard and I had to take a written psychosocial test," she said.

"That was the most bizarre part," Richard said of the psychiatrist's visit. "I thought you had to be crazy to want to do it."

The first television crew came April 15, filming how the family lives and taking pictures of the everything in the Baker home to get it approved for air. Any logo was covered with tape. Because of the name brands on their clothes, the girls received new wardrobes for the show. Lights were installed for filming. Items that weren't approved by producers or artwork and photographs that weren't cleared "disappeared," said Christie, who during this time had to fill out tons of paper work, including providing information for The Household Manual.

And at 5 a.m. April 17, Christie was officially on her way to become part of "Wife Swap."

*

It was Audrey Donahoe's sister-in-law Tammy who first learned of this new show called "Wife Swap."

"She got an e-mail at work that they were looking for a family in the dairy industry to participate in a show and represent the industry," Audrey said.

That evening, Feb. 1, the Donahoes were having a birthday party for one of their sons when "she asked if we'd like to do it. At that time, we didn't know the details of the show. We treated it like a joke and laughed about it," Audrey said. "I told her I'd sign my autograph for her over the summer."

The next day, Feb. 2, Tammy submitted their information.

Jeff and Audrey Donahoe have been together for 20 years and marked their 17th wedding anniversary in February. They live in Litchfield, N.Y., located in upstate New York, directly between Albany and Syracuse, on his 710-acre family farm where they raise 150 head of cattle. He is a fourth-generation dairy farmer. She is a fifth-generation dairy farmer. They have six children - Arnold, now 17; Tom, now 15; Rick, 12; Allison, now 8; Sam, now 4; and Seth, 2.

Within 15 minutes of Tammy's submitting the Donahoes, "she got a reply asking if we were for real because that's what they were looking for," Audrey said.

After getting that confirmation, Michael Davies called her.

"I thought Tammy had a co-worker call. I was calm, nonchalant," she said. "I thought there was no way it was Michael, he's quite high up. That was probably the funniest part."

The process began soon afterward and through the month of February, the Donahoes went through testing and Audrey "did a lot of talking" with RDF representatives on the phone and through e-mail.

Audrey said she was very concerned about how her big family, especially her small children, would be affected by the show.

"I felt the testing was extremely important. I wanted to be sure the family we were switching with had the same thing done," she said.

In March, the family received word that they had been selected and RDF was looking for a family to swap with. As the month progressed, Audrey learned more about the show. And on April 2, "I won't forget that day; it's my birthday, we officially got the call. And that's when it began sinking in," she said.

Being so busy between work, their children and the older kids' extracurricular activities, "we had kinda forgotten about it," she said. "We'd gone through the process (for two or three months) and were used to them calling. We'd had several opportunities to ask ABC a lot of questions. They said it was a family network and they were wanting to get away from gross reality shows."

And at 8 p.m. April 17, Audrey arrived in Dyersburg and officially began her "Wife Swap" experience.

*

By the time filming of the Baker/Donahoe "Wife Swap" began, RDF had five shows in the can. Their episode on Wednesday will be the fourth to hit the air.



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