NBC is set to blow the whistle on reality television, but not in the way you think. The Marriage Ref, starring comedian and Rider alumnus Tom Papa ’90 as the show’s mediator for real-life marital disputes between actual married couples, debuted on February 28, and moves to its permanent slot on Thursday nights beginning March 4. The show is the brainchild of executive producer Jerry Seinfeld, who has featured Papa as his opening act for more than eight years on the stand-up comedy tour.
Seinfeld describes The Marriage Ref as “a comedy about situations in reality.” The show involves ordinary couples who have been enduring marital strife over particular issues over time. A video of the couples depicting both sides of the argument is shown to a three-member celebrity panel, who then discuss the merits of each side of the argument and vote on who they think is right. Panelists on the debut episode included Seinfeld, actor Alec Baldwin and television host Kelly Ripa.
Papa, in his function as the show’s “marriage ref,” then renders a verdict on the couple’s dispute. While he is free to use the panelists’ advice, he may choose as he sees fit.
The Marriage Ref represents Papa’s second comedic venture with NBC, following his 2004 sitcom Come to Papa, and he has also been seen performing on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Late Show with David Letterman. Papa also played a recurring character on the CBS comedy The New Adventures of Old Christine, and starred opposite Matt Damon in the 2009 feature film The Informant!
Papa, who was raised in Montvale, N.J., and now splits his time between Los Angeles and New York, earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication in 1990. Despite the focus of his studies, he said he aspired to be a comedian from his earliest days. His time spent in his native state actually inspired much of the material he wrote for Come to Papa. “More than anything else, the show was about me and my friends and family hanging out in New Jersey and all the funny things that happened,” he said.
The star of several theater productions during his days at Rider, Papa had major roles in Equus, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, was the lead character in Dracula and the romantic lead in The Man Who Came to Dinner. He also played the plant in Little Shop of Horrors.
“I never thought Tom would be in comedic roles,” said Dr. Patrick Chmel, who retired last year as chair of the Fine Arts department. “I know of his power in portraying serious roles in drama.” Chmel added that the department considers his performances in Equus and All My Sons to be two of the very best by a Rider student actor.
The Marriage Ref airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. on NBC.