The Marriage Ref

The Marriage Ref
The Marriage Ref
The Marriage Ref.jpg
The Marriage Ref title card, featuring host Tom Papa
Language(s) English
No. of seasons 2
No. of episodes 19 (List of episodes)
Audio format Dolby Digital 5.1
Original run February 28, 2010 (2010-02-28) – present
External links

The Marriage Ref is a TV reality show and panel game hosted by comedian Tom Papa and produced by Jerry Seinfeld, in which a rotating group of celebrities decides the winners of real-life marital disputes. The show premiered on NBC on Sunday, February 28, 2010[1] on the final night of the Olympics before moving to Thursdays.[2] The show's second season debuted on June 25, 2011.[3] It is unknown if there will be a third season.



The premise of the show involves real-life couples who have been having an ongoing argument. In season one, a video clip was shown to a three-member celebrity panel depicting both sides of a dispute. The celebrities made humorous observations, deliberated the merits and voted on who should win the debate. Though the Marriage Ref (Papa) took their votes into consideration, he was free to make his own decision about who was right.

In addition to the celebrity panel, season one featured a fact checker who could provide additional information to aid in the decision making. Today correspondents Natalie Morales and Maria Menounos and MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski filled this role.

Changes have been announced for season two.[4][5] In these episodes, couples will appear live in studio, and at the end of each show, the studio audience will vote on which of the night's three winners is "The Rightest." The winner will receive $25,000 and a billboard in their hometown declaring that they are right.

Reviewers have described the show as a renewal of the panel game format popular in classic American television.[6][7]


The Marriage Ref was originally scheduled to air Sundays at 8 pm in NBC's 2009–2010 season.[8] NBC greenlighted the show "within minutes" of Seinfeld pitching the concept.[9] Its premiere was delayed, however, until the show was used to help fill the 10 pm time slot vacated by Jay Leno after he returned to The Tonight Show in early 2010.[2]

The executive producers of The Marriage Ref are Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen Rakieten, Nick Emerson, Jennifer O'Connell, and Al Berman.[10] Seinfeld selected comedian Tom Papa, his longtime warm-up act, to serve as the show's host and referee.[10] The program is produced by Seinfeld's company, Columbus 81 Productions.[10] Endemol provides services of international distribution of The Marriage Ref.[10] Central Talent Booking manages the composition of each show's celebrity panel.[11]

Critical reception


The Marriage Ref received an overwhelmingly negative reception from television critics.[12][13][14] It currently receives a 41 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 11 reviews.[12] According to the news agency, Reuters, the television program received "scathing reviews".[13] An analysis of reviews in The Guardian noted that The Marriage Ref, "has been so thoroughly panned by critics its future looks in doubt even before it begins."[14] A review of the program on National Public Radio called the television show "painfully bad"; the reviewer commented, "I was optimistic that I'd be writing something of the 'Don't assume this show is terrible' variety. But it's ... terrible."[15] The newspaper The Star Ledger described it as "heinous", and called it an "ugly, unfunny, patronizing mess".[13][16] The New York Times called the show "funny, despite a cheesy game show premise".[17] A review by Entertainment Weekly called the program "silly fun", and commented, "The Marriage Ref exists to permit the celebrity judges to comment amusingly on the cases to be adjudicated."[18] An analysis in Variety magazine characterized the program as "a breezy, inexpensive approach to comedy that brought to mind the panel shows of yesteryear".[19] The Wall Street Journal characterized the show as a "panel" form of game show, commenting, "The concept is essentially a re-jiggering of a genre staple of television's halcyon days: the 'panel' game show".[20]

A commentary on the show in Time magazine commented that The Marriage Ref was "the most God-awful mishmash of a comedy-variety show".[13][21] Time gave it an F, as did The A.V. Club who noted how confused the premise of the show is claiming that the pilot "safely toe[s] the line between all of [its] options and never commit[s] to one of them."[22] A reviewer for commented, "The Marriage Ref may be the worst television I've seen in awhile [sic]."[23] The review concluded that the program was an "atrocity" and, "a pathetic half-hour that's edited to hell, results in meaningless resolutions, features the worst animated intro of all-time, and is just plain uncomfortable to watch".[23]

"Who knew Seinfeld could be this unfunny?", commented a review in The Baltimore Sun; the review stated that the program was not worthy of its Thursday slot or daytime syndication.[14] The Huffington Post asked a similar question, "How could a man as funny as Seinfeld produce such a remarkably unfunny show?"[24] The website Gawker mused as to whether "Jerry Seinfeld's new show almost cancels out Seinfeld",[14][25] and IGN wrote, "The Marriage Ref just felt utterly dead on arrival."[26] New York Magazine characterized The Marriage Ref as "kinda terrible".[27] An analysis of the show in The Hartford Courant wrote, "What do you do if you've managed to pull your network up from fourth place after two weeks of highly-rated Olympic Winter games? If you're NBC, you squander it immediately on an unfunny little thing called 'The Marriage Ref.'"[28] The review concluded that "absolutely nothing funny happened", and called the show "about as wrongheaded an offering to prime time as, well, anything on NBC these days"[28]


In the ratings, the program's debut performed worse than the CBS Network television reality show Undercover Boss even with the Olympics closing lead-in.[29] The pre-empting and tape delay of the remainder of the 2010 Winter Olympics closing ceremony after late local news in order to broadcast the premiere of The Marriage Ref was immediately criticized by viewers over social networking websites such as Twitter.[30][31] The week after its debut, The Marriage Ref dropped to number three in the ratings;[32] losing to the CBS program The Mentalist and the ABC Network program Private Practice.[33][34] The program had been in first place in its first week, but fell 21 percent in the ratings in its second week.[32][33][35] The program has seen steady ratings decline with each episode since its debut.[36] The first showing of The Marriage Ref had 14 million viewers,[37] and by the fourth full episode the number of viewers had declined to 6.5 million.[38] As of the fourth episode, the program had "posted its lowest rating to date", with a rating of 2.5/7.[39] In the program's sixth broadcast, the April 8, 2010 edition of The Marriage Ref hit a season low with a rating of 2.1,[40][41] just three days after it had been renewed for a second season.

The show's second season premiere had ratings 20% lower than the first season premier, at a 1.6.[42]

International versions

Country Name Host Network Date premiered
Arab League Arab World[43] قاضي الغـرام
Qadi El Gharam
Moustafa Shaban Abu Dhabi TV September 20, 2010-December 13, 2010
 Argentina[44] El referí del matrimonio Gabriel Corrado Telefe December 13, 2010-March 2011
 Russia[45] Семейный приговор
Semyeinyi prigovor
Gennady Khazanov TV3 February 2011
 Serbia[46] Bračni sudija Sanja Marinković Pink September 21, 2011
 United Kingdom[47] The Marriage Ref Dermot O'Leary ITV June 18, 2011


  1. ^ "Seinfeld's "Marriage Ref" worth a few giggles". Reuters. 2010-03-03. 
  2. ^ a b "NBC's post-'Leno' schedule revealed". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "'Marriage Ref' Host Tom Papa Previews Big Changes, Celebrity Guests for Season 2". TV Squad. 
  5. ^ "'The Marriage Ref' Tom Papa riffs". Scripps Howard News Service. 
  6. ^ Lowry, Brian (March 1, 2010). "The Marriage Ref". Variety magazine. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  7. ^ Simmons, Chris (March 1, 2010). "Jerry Seinfeld’s "The Marriage Ref" Debuts on NBC". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  8. ^ Schneider, Michael (2009-05-19). "NBC cuts fall season in two". Variety. 
  9. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (2010-02-28). "A Show About Something: Marriage". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ a b c d "About The Marriage Ref". NBC. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  11. ^ Starr, Michael (March 12, 2010). "Seinfeld attempts to save 'Marriage Ref' with TV spots". New York Post. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  12. ^ a b The Marriage Ref at Metacritic
  13. ^ a b c d Serjeant, Jill (March 1, 2010). "Seinfeld's "Marriage" gets big ratings, bad reviews". Reuters ( Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  14. ^ a b c d Pilkington, Ed (March 1, 2010). "Jerry Seinfeld's The Marriage Ref labelled 'painful and pointless' by critics: Debut of comedian's NBC sitcom received withering reviews from US media and was mocked by viewers on Twitter". The Guardian (London: Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  15. ^ Holmes, Linda (March 1, 2010). "Morning Shots: 'The Marriage Ref,' Weekend Box Office, And Mo'Nique". National Public Radio ( Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  16. ^ Sepinwall, Alan (March 1, 2010). "The Marriage Ref: Jerry Seinfeld's unfunny, painful new series". The Star Ledger ( Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  17. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (March 1, 2010). "A Family Affair, From Acne to Arthritis". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  18. ^ Tucker, Ken (March 1, 2010). "'The Marriage Ref' review: 'I'm ready to make the call': Funny or not?". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  19. ^ Lowry, Brian (March 1, 2010). "The Marriage Ref". Variety magazine. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  20. ^ Simmons, Chris (March 1, 2010). "Jerry Seinfeld’s “The Marriage Ref” Debuts on NBC". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  21. ^ Poniewozik, James (March 1, 2010). "The Marriage Ref: Grounds for Divorce". Time magazine ( Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  22. ^ Todd VanDerWerff (2010-03-01). "The Marriage Ref — Other Shows — TV Club". The A.V. Club.,38659/. Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  23. ^ a b Surette, Tim (March 1, 2010). "The Marriage Ref: An Unholy Union". ( Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  24. ^ Evans, Greg (March 1, 2010). "Seinfeld's Marriage Ref: Nada Nada Nada". The Huffington Post ( Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  25. ^ Chen, Adrian (March 1, 2010). "Jerry Seinfeld’s New Show Almost Cancels Out Seinfeld". Defamer (Gawker). Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  26. ^ Goldman, Eric (March 1, 2010). "The Marriage Ref: Premiere Review — Oh, Jerry...". IGN ( Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  27. ^ Brown, Lane (March 1, 2010). "No Soup for The Marriage Ref". New York Magazine ( Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  28. ^ a b Catlin, Roger (March 1, 2010). "Review: 'The Marriage Ref'". The Hartford Courant ( Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  29. ^ Toff, Benjamin (March 1, 2010). "Post-Olympic Letdown". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  30. ^ "Blogging the Closing Ceremony". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). February 28, 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  31. ^ Canadian Press (February 28, 2010). "US viewers tweet up a storm after NBC cuts Olympic closing ceremonies show". Winnipeg Free Press. 
  32. ^ a b "Madonna Gives Advice on "Marriage Ref"". CBS News ( March 12, 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  33. ^ a b Fitzgerald, Toni (March 12, 2010). "Cooling down for NBC's 'Marriage Ref'". Media Life Magazine ( Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  34. ^ "'Marriage Ref' falls to third place". The Hollywood Reporter ( March 12, 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  35. ^ Weisman, Jon (March 12, 2010). "'American Idol' tops Thursday ratings - NBC's 'The Marriage Ref' down 21% in key demo". Variety magazine ( Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  36. ^ "All demos ‘American Idol’ tops Thursday; four sent packing". Radio Business Report ( March 12, 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-15. "episode three of new reality series The Marriage Ref (2.7/8) posted its lowest rating to date, dropping -21% from its time period premiere last Thursday (3.4/10) and showing steady losses with every episode on the air" 
  37. ^ Gorman, Bill (March 1, 2010). "TV Ratings: Winter Olympics Win One More For NBC; Undercover Boss Working Hard". TV by the Numbers. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  38. ^ "NBC has average Thursday ‘The Marriage Ref’ #3". Radio Business Report / Television Business Report ( March 26, 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-26. 
  39. ^ "Fox Thursday hits repeats of Bones #3 and Fringe #4". Radio Business Report / Television Business Report ( March 26, 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  40. ^ Gorman, Bill (April 9, 2010). "TV Ratings: CBS Wins As Bones, Fringe, Survivor, CSI, Mentalist All Up; Marriage Ref Series Low". TV by the Numbers ( Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  41. ^ "'Survivor' leads Thursday; Fox posts gains". The Hollywood Reporter: Live Feed ( April 9, 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  42. ^
  43. ^ Arab version Official website
  44. ^ Argentinian version Official website
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^

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