CBS picks up arranged-marriage series

Family, friends will match couples to tie the knot on TV

CBS is treading into potentially controversial reality TV territory again.

The network has ordered a new series from the producers of "Top Chef" that puts lovelorn singles into arranged marriages.

The show introduces four adults age approximately 25-45 who are anxious to get married but have been unsuccessful in their search for a mate. Their friends and family select a spouse for them, and the newly paired couple exchange marital vows. The series follows their marriages.

The rest of the details for the project, whose early working title is "Arranged Marriage," are being kept under wraps.

The series is from Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth of Magical Elves, which launched "Project Runway" on Bravo and produces the network's "Top Chef."

It is the second series greenlighted by CBS' new reality chief Jennifer Bresnan, following the recent order for "Block Party," a competition among neighboring families.

The series order for "Marriage" shows CBS is not shying away from reality projects that might draw a few pointed editorials in the wake of the network's previous envelope-pushing social experiment, the fall 2007 series "Kid Nation."

It comes on the heels of CBS' success with traditional scripted fare this past fall, led by hit new procedural "The Mentalist."

Although it might seem surprising that CBS would opt for a potentially hot-button series when it's on a roll with tried-and-true concepts, reality TV is unlike scripted. New dramas and comedies can get away with showing merely the slightest twist on a decades-old format. But reality shows are built on taking chances with social experiments and competitions giving viewers something they have not seen before.

"Marriage" also will inevitably draw comparisons to another arranged-marriage reality show, Fox's infamous "Married by America."

The 2003 series drew fire from conservative groups, and one bachelor party scene containing pixelated nudity resulted in the FCC's slapping Fox stations with a $1.18 million fine (which was reduced last month to $91,000).

But CBS' project contains some key differences.

In "Married," couples were paired by viewers voting from home and then sequestered in a hotel to learn more about each other.

CBS' "Marriage" presents itself as a documentary series about finding true love, a show that extends the Eastern tradition of an arranged marriage (where friends and family select the mate) into the West.

Another difference is that on "Married," despite the pundit outcry, nobody on the show actually ended up getting hitched. On CBS, couples will really tie the knot.