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The US Army’s entertainment liaison office has worked on as wide a variety of TV entertainment as you can imagine, from Oprah to Top Chef, from The Price is Right to Man of Steel.  But they do sometimes reject requests for support, as was the case with Wife Swap which was turned down partly because of the ’60s era connotations’ of the title.  There are many examples of the cultural conservatism within the Pentagon’s Hollywood offices but Wife Swap is perhaps the funniest.

The story begins in October 2004, when a junior producer for the show called up the Army’s entertainment liaison office to ask about finding an Army wife who could be swapped with a civilian family.  The producer made the unwise move of explaining to the Army how reality TV works, saying that the Army wife would be swapped with someone from a ‘progressive minded’ family in order to spark of arguments and make ‘good TV’.

Wife Swap. Yeah. My reaction, too. Relatively politely declined the offer from the producer of this hit ABC show (the networks #3 show in all markets) to feature an Army wife (either the wife of a Soldier or a wife who happens to be a Soldier herself) "swapped" with the wife of a civilian family. Incredulous, I inquired that even if I could possibly reconcile the concept of Army Soldiers or Army wives being "swapped," with all the ’60s era connotations that implies, to what sort of family would the wife go? The producer let it slip that it would have to be to a family that would create "good TV, you know, a progressively minded family" and then I was treated to this producers bent on how she believes most members of the Army must think and behave and how good that would be to show that compared to "a family who doesn’t necessarily believe everything they are told

This rather clumsy and insulting approach was ignored but the following week an audition tape came in from a female soldier at Fort Campbell and the show’s main producer called up the Army liaison office.

Wife Swap. This hit ABC show, with admittedly a scandalous sounding title but a not so scandalous on-screen portrayal, is soliciting help from the Army. Recently, the show is in receipt of an audition tape by a CW2 from Fort Campbell and, while the command there is amenable to supporting, this office has not yet had the opportunity to review a detailed request. The show’s producer called today (after one of her subordinate producers made a similar request last week prior to receiving the audition tape from the Soldier) and when I told her that her younger producer had sufficiently burned any bridges with this office, she avowed to "disembowel" that producer and would gladly send me copies of recent shows as well as a treatment. Will review, but made no promises.

This request was turned down, and the CW2 at Fort Campbell never appeared on the show.  But then the wife of a soldier at Fort Knox wanted to be on the show, so she contacted Army public affairs to ask permission.

"Wife Swap". A Soldier’s wife contacted Fort Knox PAO because she wishes to participate in the ABC reality program. While not nearly as salacious as it sounds (Morn Swap would be a more accurate title), it involves the wives of two families switching places and filming the turmoil that a strangers rules cause in a family. While it is the wives that apply, the entire family appears on the program thereby involving the Soldier in the show. The producers had contacted us last fall and we weren’t inclined to support the project because they seem to be looking for the Army version of June Cleaver. Since it is a reality program, it must have DoD approval before we could support.

This request was also turned down, but in early 2006 yet another request came in, this time from the wife of a soldier at Fort Sill.  Because the filming wasn’t taking place while the soldier was on post the Army didn’t have to do much except decide whether to grant permission or not.  After consulting with his chain of command and ethics counsellors the filming was approved, but Phil Strub’s office insisted he not be shown in uniform at any point during the show.

"Wife Swap". Fort Sill requested approval for one of their Soldiers to be filmed for the ABC program on which his wife was selected as a contestant. Ethics counselors and his chain of command approved his request for this to be considered off-duty employment. OSD/PA rejected a request for him to be seen at any time in uniform during the program.

So after three requests and two years of messing around, the Army finally appeared on Wife Swap.  Despite their rather kneejerk reservations, this did not result in polyamorous relationships on US Army bases.  Or at least, no more than there was before.


US Army entertainment liaison office reports 2004-5

US Army entertainment liaison office reports 2005-6