Film and TV

Erica Cobb, Alice host, on being judged by The Marriage Ref

"It takes a certain personality to apply to be a on a reality show," admits Erica Cobb, one-third of the Alice 105.9 morning team (along with co-hosts B.J. and Howie). "If your friends call you crazy, that might be a qualifier. But if you're clinically insane, no."

Cobb knows about the importance of this distinction from personal experience, having been chosen to appear alongside Jesse Lehman, her husband of four years, on the May 20 season finale of The Marriage Ref, a Jerry Seinfeld-produced show featuring celebrities (in this case, Demi Moore, Kelly Ripa and comic Jim Breuer) judging who's right and who's wrong in relationship spats.

Like, for instance, the disagreement over Cobb's decision not to take Lehman's last name.

The idea for putting themselves in the Ref's hands bubbled up from a casual chat with a pal.

"One of our girlfriends didn't realize that I didn't have the same last name as my husband," Cobb says. "She made a comment that was like, 'Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Cobb,' and we got into this whole conversation about it -- and it's been a recurring thing. I generally plan our vacations, because I book them, so when he calls the front desk, or calls the concierge, he's constantly being referred to as 'Mr. Cobb,' which is my dad. And that's when our friend busted out with, 'Have you ever seen the show The Marriage Ref?'

"About a week later, I was thinking about it, and I went online and watched a couple of episodes," she continues. "And at the bottom, it said they were casting couples. So I wrote about three lines -- I've learned to keep it simple -- and submitted pictures. And they called us, like, a week later. It was pretty fast -- or maybe just the right timing."

Still, Cobb and Lehman had to run a stability gauntlet before they were officially selected.

"They definitely want to make sure you're okay mentally," she points out. "There was a whole process. First, there was an over-the-phone interview we did on a speaker with a producer. And after that, they were constantly asking questions and asking us to fill out forms -- more interviews and psychiatric evaluations and things you'd never think of. They even sent out a psychiatrist to talk to us, and then there was all this stuff with clearance and legal. That took three weeks to a month."

Finally, in mid-April, upon determining that neither Cobb nor Lehman would likely drive to New York with a van filled with fertilizer if they didn't approve of the judgment, a crew arrived in Denver. Over the course of a day, they got shots of Cobb and Lehman, a golf-course manager, at their respective jobs before following them home. The results were very unscripted, Cobb says.

"They were all about us doing what we were going to do," she emphasizes. "There was really no direction -- just, 'Oh, why don't you talk about your issue,' and then they let us go. That was almost more difficult for us: It would have been easier if they came in and said, 'Why don't you say this about whatever.' But they were like, 'We're here because you're having an argument about your last name. Go!' So it was very organic -- or as organic as it can be with a camera there."

Cut to earlier this month, when Cobb and Lehman participated in the studio portion of the show, in which they interacted with Ref host Tom Papa and the celebrity panelists.

"We were in the studio from about 10:30 in the morning to about two o'clock in the afternoon, and it's really quite an intricate operation. Some of the producers are in L.A., and all the on-set producers are in New York, and then there are three other couples being satellited in from other parts of the country."

Despite this marathon session, Cobb and Lehman have only limited information about what will wind up in the May 20 broadcast.

"We know the final call, but we don't know anything the panel said," she concedes. "When they're doing the whole deliberation, when Tom Papa goes to the panel and says, 'What do you think about it?,' we're in the dark about that. And that's the biggest reason why there's anxiety about watching this with our family and friends -- we have no idea what they actually said about us."

Well, they've got at least one clue. The episode promo, on view below, features Cobb expressing confidence because the panel includes Moore and Ripa, both of whom use professional names different from that of their spouses -- after which Papa declares that the women went against her. That leaves Breuer as the wild card -- and by coincidence, he's playing the Denver Improv May 20-22. "We'll probably have him on the show," Cobb teases -- and depending upon what he said about her, "he may not want to be in the studio."

Not that Cobb's caught up in winning or losing. "I'm on morning radio, so I'm not scared to be the butt of a joke," she says. "And I don't feel like we were being exploited. It was all in fun, and the show has a really fun, family-oriented vibe. Plus, they give you an awesome vacation, an awesome prize for being on. So we're completely glad we did it, and I would encourage anyone to try."

Unless you're confined to an asylum, that is. Here's the episode preview:

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts