PASADENA -- NBC's new series "The Marriage Ref" offers average couples the chance to air their differences on national television and have the argument settled by the show's resident referee, Tom Papa.
The show also marks the return of Jerry Seinfeld to network TV -- he's the executive producer and an occasional guest panelist.
"The Marriage Ref" debuts at 10:30 p.m. Sunday before sliding into its regular time slot at 10 p.m. Thursdays on NBC.
Don't expect big knock-down, drag-out fights about divorce, children, finances or politics. The on-air arbitration will be about simple arguments -- like whether it's right or wrong for a husband to park his motorcycle in the living room or whether the family pet should be stuffed after it dies.
There will be prizes, but nothing substantial. Seinfeld says just ending the argument will be reward enough.
Papa suggests shows like "Dr. Phil" are better equipped to handle big problems.
"This is all light and funny. It's all just silly. And we find in our marriages if you laugh at all these crazy situations, you survive. And that's what this show's about, surviving. We want these marriages to flourish and be OK, so we just want to have a laugh with it all."
The show will tackle only nagging little arguments that don't require serious help. That explains why the show's rotating celebrity panel will include Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Eva Longoria, Charles Barkley, Larry David and even Seinfeld. The only job for the panel is to be funny, and they will have no influence on the final decision made solely by Papa.
"People get into arguments. If you ever played a sandlot game and there's no umpires, the fights just go on and on. It's like marriage," Seinfeld says.
It's a good thing the show isn't tackling tough topics. Papa may not be the most impartial referee -- he believes when a couple fight, the wife has her point of view that she's trying to put across, and the husband spends the entire fight trying to figure out what the fight is about.
Seinfeld's already learned one way to avoid having to go to the marriage ref: Never set yourself up for an argument. He credits his wife of 10 years, Jess, with coming up with the concept.
The Seinfelds were having a dispute in front of a friend. Instead of letting the friend leave, they asked for an outside opinion that would be binding. That moment spawned "The Marriage Ref."
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (559) 441-6355. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com