Hayley Babcock, head of formats, international programming and production at A+E Networks, talks to TV Formats about the social-experiment format Seven Year Switch.
The social-experiment format Seven Year Switch follows as couples in turmoil make a last-ditch effort to save their marriages. They participate in “switch therapy,” a radical new idea that sees the pairs—who’ve all reached that pivotal seven-year mark in their marriages—swap partners for 14 days to help them decide if their spouse has the qualities they’re really looking for in a mate, or if they’d be better off breaking it off.
Viewers follow along with the couples’ histories, learning about how they met, their love story, what went wrong and, most importantly, why they’re willing to put it all on the line for one last chance to keep their relationship afloat. “There are very recognizable USPs to this format,” Babcock tells TV Formats. “You find couples who are trying really hard to stay together but having troubles, and they’re willing to try a sort of radical approach to keep their relationship together. You find like-minded people to pair them with, so they get to see whether things are indeed better with someone more similar to their taste, style and so forth.”
And the couples aren’t alone during their journey. Two relationship experts—in the U.S. version, it’s best-selling author Charles J. Orlando and Dr. Jessica Griffin, who fans might recognize from the relationship woes of Married at First Sight—guide the beleaguered hopefuls as they navigate the ups and downs of their new life with their respective sort-of spouses. They give the experimental couples tasks and challenges to complete so they can get a better feel for each other’s strengths and weaknesses. “This results in them openly discussing their home-life issues and concerns with their new partners, finding new ways to look at, understand and ultimately resolve their problems at home,” says Babcock.
The format comes from Red Arrow Studios’ Kinetic Content, which brainstormed the idea alongside Lifetime, where the series ran for three seasons. The two were “trying to find a way to build a show from the jumping-off point of the concept of a ‘hall pass’ or ‘free pass’ in a relationship,” says Babcock. After the original idea went through some fine-tuning processes, Seven Year Switch was born, and couples began switching it up on Lifetime in 2015.
Following the series’ debut in the U.S., Australia’s Seven Network adapted the series, which then ran for two seasons and spawned a spin-off called The Super Switch, which saw six couples divided into two different mansions. “None of the people who were real partners were in the same home,” says Babcock. “In this scenario, the experimental couples had plenty of time for private interaction with each other but also social interaction with the other couples.”
“Group therapy is something else we added to super-size the format,” she continues. “The real-life partners are not included in the same group, however. Previously we had done only individual couples’ therapy.”
The original Australian version had some unique beats to it to adapt the format to its audience as well: “We had all of the women go on a girl’s night out together and all of the men on a guy’s night out together,” says Babcock.
Seven Year Switch has since sold in ten additional territories, including Italy on Fox Life and the U.K. on Channel 4, which commissioned a British adaptation from 7 Wonder Productions. “This is the type of format that could work in any market!” says Babcock. “It isn’t about splitting couples up, it’s about working to keep couples together. The themes are truly universal.”
This interview was conducted prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Media companies are currently shifting their strategies in the wake of production postponements and economic trends.