Teens swap lives on new 'reality' show
By Steve Johnson
The ABC Family channel is proclaiming big ratings success for its daily trading-places "reality" show "Switched."
The new program (4:30 p.m. weekdays), in which two teens swap lives for four days, has the channel winning the time period among female teens over primary competitors Nickelodeon and MTV.
They are drawn, it seems, to such stories as Ally, a St. Louis private-schooler, walking a few hundred feet in the shoes of Ida, a Washington state Indian reservation resident, and vice versa.
"I'm in just complete culture shock right now," announces Ida, noting that at Ally's girls' school "nobody fixed their hair that much and, like, nobody really wore makeup."
Ida has to try diving, as Ally does competitively, to live with Ally's family and to be a hostess at an Italian restaurant. Except for the trailing camera crew and the fact that everybody's a stranger, it really is Ally's life.
As for Ally, she puts on heavy rain gear to go fishing and notes from the small Washington town that "there are no fast-food stands here. That just blew my mind."
And there's the rub. It's obviously interesting to see how other people live and to be able to see new people every weekday. In May, Miko Walczuk, a 17-year-old from Maui, and Matthew Sereni of California changed places. My guess is that this clear window into others' homes is the big draw to the teen viewers, the same allure that's exploited by the home and garden shows out there.
But the actual switching tends not to be that interesting, primarily because there are no real stakes. With the cameras there, participants tend to be cordial, careful and incapable of creating dramatic tension. Will Ida have a hard time seating restaurant patrons?
Maybe. I dunno. Like, whatever.
What's more striking is the homogeneity of many of these teens.
In Missouri or Washington, they all know how to dress the right way, wear their hair in a style both cute and contemporary and now, apparently, watch "Switched."