Buying into a new reality series with “celebrity” in the title always requires that you accept the idea that the word “celebrity” is fairly elastic these days.
When it comes to “Celebrity Wife Swap,” the new spinoff of the old “Wife Swap” series that debuts on ABC Tuesday night (Jan. 3) at 9/8c, the “celebrities” range widely — from an evangelical minister who got caught up in a gay sex scandal a few years ago (Ted Haggard) to a movie actor and reality-TV star (Gary Busey, with whom Haggard trades places in the series premiere), a rock star (Dee Snider of Twisted Sister), a rapper (Flavor Flav), a former child star (Tina Yothers of “Family Ties”) and our favorite combination — one star, Tracey Gold of “Growing Pains,” who has battled anorexia, and another who has battled the bulge, Carnie Wilson.
Of course, it’s those kinds of differences that make for potentially dramatic episodes of a show like this. In a future episode, for example, Snider switches places with Flavor Flav. And in the premiere, in which preacher Haggard trades places with Busey, you would think there’d be fireworks, if only because Busey can seem so unpredictable, if not combustible (judging by his past appearances on reality series such as “Celebrity Rehab” and “I’m With Busey”). Haggard tells XfinityTV that wasn’t the case.
“The contrast is, we are Bible-believing evangelicals and [Busey and his wife] Steffanie [are] New Age [people], but I think we [had] mutual respect for one another,” Haggard told us in a phone interview. “It was fun, it was funny, it was loads of fun for my family to tape,” he said. In fact, when his wife, Gayle, returned from her sojourn with Gary, “she was effervescent afterward,” he said. “Gary and Steffanie and Gayle and I have become friends — we talk on the phone regularly!”
Other combos coming up in future episodes include Yothers switching with Niecy Nash, and wrestling legend Mick Foley trading with soap star Antonio Sabato Jr.
Of course, any discussion about Haggard inevitably leads to the 2006 scandal in which a male escort revealed he’d had an affair with the minister for three years, and did drugs together. Haggard resigned from his ministry and underwent counseling. His marriage survived.
If the subject is dealt with on the show, it’s with kid gloves, Haggard indicated. Speaking of Steffanie, he said, “She did not want to do anything that would embarrass us or bring up the old scandal from five years ago, but she wanted to encourage us to move forward and live a healthy life.”
“Celebrity Wife Swap” premieres Tuesday night (Jan. 3) at 9/8c on ABC.