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Weekend: Faimily life: And after the commercial break - it's time for a wedding.

Byline: Rachael Crofts

It should be one of the most memorable moments in a girl's life. Moonlight, roses, soft music, your fianc on one knee, producing a diamond the size of Ayers Rock and asking: 'Will you marry me, darling?'

Of course, for many women the reality is nothing like this, and some even have to take the opportunity a Leap Year affords and do the asking themselves. But who would want to take part in a new television programme that asks a woman to propose to her boyfriend in front of millions of viewers?

Imagine the humiliation if he says 'No'. Much worse than getting the pounds 100 question wrong on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Much, much, worse than Darius's rendition of Britney Spears's Baby One More Time on Pop Stars, though that was bad enough. The makers of a new reality TV show on marriage are planning to get would-be brides to propose to their unsuspecting boyfriends in front of a TV audience, and if he says yes, the wedding takes place on the spot. Heaven help any men who say yes in the hope of a long engagement.

Surprise Wedding is This is Your Life meets Blind Date photographed by Candid Camera in the Big Brother house. Perhaps Jeremy Beadle will be on hand to perform the ceremony.

Programme makers Carlton claim the show will be 'full of more drama than your average wedding'. But then your average wedding doesn't take place in front of six million people at the drop of a hat, does it? 'It will be an emotional rollercoaster for the six couples taking part,' Carlton says. 'Wannabe brides will propose to their unsuspecting boyfriends in front of reception guests and an ITV audience. If he says yes, they will be married on the spot. If not, we will be there to pick up the pieces.' How reassuring. Public rejection countered by a sympathetic camera crew. The potential for heartbreak is huge, but this rubberneck fascination with the joys and sorrows of real people is driving the television world at the moment.

Nick Bullen, controller of factual entertainment at Carlton, believes his company is leading the way forward. 'We're breaking new ground on British television and we want to make this a night that our couples will never forget. Our selection process is thorough and sensitive, as these are life-altering decisions,' he says. With the help of video clips, the brides will each explain how they have been preparing for their big day - secretly shopping for the dress, choosing the rings and planning how to get their partners to the altar without raising suspicions.

Surprise Wedding will no doubt be a success in the television ratings war. The millions of us who tuned in to watch the Big Brother contestants sleeping or sunbathing are bound to love it - at least something other than mundanity is going to happen in this show. But is marriage fair game for the makers of reality TV or are they taking our obsession with this genre too far?

When a Birmingham radio station ran a competition to marry two strangers, imaginatively entitled Two Strangers And A Wedding, the saga gripped the nationalmedia. As one newspaper quipped at the time, 'The bride wore white, the groom top hat and tails, and the marketing men smiles from ear to ear'.

The marriage, which unsurprisingly ended in divorce, had achieved its aim of ensuring the BRMB radio station a place in the spotlight. The charge of devaluing the institution of marriage was levelled at the radio station producers, but it didn't matter - they had achieved their goal.

Surprise Wedding is different at least in that it is dealing with existing couples, but can it also be accused of undermining the sanctity of marriage by turning it into a game show?

The Church of England thinks the programme could trivialise marriage. Spokesman Lou Henderson says: 'It's very difficult to generalise because the relationships of the six couples are likely to be so different.

'The chances are that one couple may have been on the point of someone proposing anyway, whereas for another couple it could as a complete bolt from the blue.

'This does make it difficult to generalise, but there is, at the very least, the potential to trivialise the institution of marriage.'

His concern, he says, is for any of the brides who may be rejected.

'There is the pastoral side to it too. There is the potential of very public psychological damage being done to some of the people taking part. Perhaps they ought to think it through rather more.'

Marriage, he points out, is an important, life-changing step, which should be the result of contemplation.

'My general point is that, although the programme will feature existing couples, not strangers, the church's teaching has always been that marriage should be entered into thoughtfully and calmly, not rushed at or jumped into without preparation.'

Just how many grooms jump in at the deep end and how many brides are left drowning their sorrows remains to be seen, if you can bear to watch.

Surprise Wedding starts in November and will be hosted by John Leslie.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 28, 2002
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