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Lifetime tosses Heene family "Wife Swap" episode overboard

Lifetime cable network, which spent a fortune stealing "Project Runway" away from Bravo in an attempt to goose its primetime ratings, has had a pot of ratings gold dumped in its lap but, weirdly, has said "no thanks."

Lifetime has the rerun rights to ABC's reality series "Wife Swap" (ABC-parent Disney co-owns Lifetime).

The basic cable network had scheduled for next Thursday, Oct. 29, the episode of "Wife Swap" that features the Heene family, the It Family of the moment, which apparently pulled off a made-for-Hollywood hoax of Capra-esque proportions: launching a homemade helium-filled balloon, claiming their little boy was stuck in the balloon when he was in fact hidden in the garage and sitting back while the cable news networks, the National Guard, authorities at Denver International Airport and a large swath of the American public got sucked in.

Next Thursday's rerun episode of "Wife Swap" was sure to attract a lot of viewers who had not seen the episode when it first foisted the Heenes on an unsuspecting public, back in October of 2008 on ABC.

And yet Lifetime now says it has scrubbed plans to run the episode and has no plans to reschedule it "in the near future, at this time." It was pulled, a Lifetime rep told The TV Column, "once we determined" the Heene family had perpetrated their stupendous hoax.

"Given the incident that occurred last week, we felt it was inappropriate to air at this time," the Lifetime rep said.

Honestly, we don't get it.

It's not like any member of the Heene family murdered a woman, yanked out her teeth, cut off her fingers, and tossed her body into a dumpster -- which seems to be the new threshold at which VH1 cable network will -- reluctantly -- cancel its reality programming.

And, let's face it, it's not like "Wife Swap" is a show in which philanthropic families swap good-deed-doing wives and the Heenes have now disgraced the brand. "Wife Swap" is a show in which trainwreck families swap mothers/wives for a period of time and cheesetastic TV ensues.

For instance, the Heene episode of "Wife Swap" that Lifetime was perfectly happy to air -- until recently -- featured the three little Heene boys, age 5, 7, and 8 at the time, showing off their farting talent at the dinner table, eating pocket change, and advising their new temporary, pretend mother that it would be unwise to sleep with Dad.

Lifetime likewise had no problem with Dad, aka Richard Heene, observing that "once a woman hits 25, it's all downhill from there," creating a "Bitch-Meter" to gauge his temporary, pretend wife's behavior and when she asked him to help around the house, shouting at her, "You're a man's nightmare! I'm so glad my wife was born in Japan. Nag, nag nag! Over 25 years old. You sag!"

Which we believe qualifies as not only sexist and ageist, but maybe also racist, which would make it a veritable Hat Trick of Prejudice.

Lifetime's issues with the episode only started last Thursday, Oct. 15, when the Heene parents, who are amateur storm chasers, reported that one of their sons said he thought he saw his baby brother, Falcon, climb into the basket of a helium-filled weather balloon shortly before it took off from the family yard in Fort Collins, Colo.

The Heene parents, Richard and Mayumi, called 911 - and a local TV news outlet, and the Federal Aviation Administration - to report the harrowing news, and for about an hour the cable news networks all took feeds from a local TV channel's footage of the silver balloon as it hurtled over the Colorado landscape for more than 50 miles, while authorities frantically shut down Denver International Airport and deployed National Guard helicopters in an attempt to pluck the balloon out of the air. Meanwhile, TV viewers at home and at the office sat with their hearts pounding against their front teeth, praying the adorable little boy would miraculously survive.

When the homemade balloon finally landed, no Falcon was on board, triggering TV news reports he may have plunged from the balloon to his death.

Then Falcon was "discovered," "hiding" in the rafters of the family garage and CNN scored an interview with the family, in which Wolf Blitzer asked Richard Heene if Falcon hid in the garage because he thought his dad was going to punish him and Richard looked at the son he was clutching to his bosom and asked, "Why didn't you come out [of the garage]?" and Falcon responded sweetly, "You guys said that we did this for a show." After which everything began to unravel at warp speed.

The parents are not under arrest, but authorities are expected to throw the book at them, with charges that could include conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, making a false report to authorities, attempting to influence a public servant -- and that doesn't include federal charges. The most serious charges are felonies and carry a maximum sentence of six years in the slammer, the AP reported, citing Colorado authorities.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  October 21, 2009; 6:10 PM ET
Categories:  TV News  
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Next: Fox pulls "Dollhouse"; Whedon philosophical


Unfortunately pulling this family from the schedule doesn't do much, there are still people just as obsessed as the Heenes on those shows. The airwaves are filled with these shows with people who are not really living in reality. I do watch a few of the reality competitions shows. But are we going overboard with reality shows? They seem to be popping up TV like kudzu.

Posted by: mrtalkback | October 22, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

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