Rent A Family (Part 1)

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Rent A Family (Part 1)[1]
Work In Progress
Original Broadcast Date
Barbara Sohmers, Mark Hammer, Arthur Miller, Tim Jerome, Nick Ullett, Carolyn Swift, Larry Block, Lynn, Sarah, Carmen, Thomas, Timo, Sharon, Christa
Scripted Actors, Improv Actors, Panel Discussion, 58 minutes
Preceded by: Nightride
Followed by: Rent A Family (Part 2)

"Anyway they closed the office and they let me go."

Rent A Family (Part 1) is a program Joe Frank produced as part of the series Work In Progress. It was originally broadcast in 1987.


Eleanor, an unemployed divorceé with 2 young daughters, (Barbara Sohmers) having trouble finding work, reluctantly joins Rent-A-Family, an organization that rents out families to men who want one temporarily.

9:30: Rent-A-Family's proprietor, Joel, (Larry Block) describes how Rent-A-Family works.

10:50: Panelist #1 (Tim Jerome, German accent) asks a question about how it works.

11:50: Panelist #2 (Arthur Miller) asks a question.

12:10: Panelist #3, Johnny, (Nick Ullett, English accent) asks a question.

13:10: The panel and proprietor talk about Rent-A-Family and society, planned obsolescence, the convenience of renting instead of owning.

18: Carmen introduces herself; more voices of women and children, mostly drowned under music and sound effects. Joe names things (...cheeseburgers, zoning regulations...)

19:40: Eleanor tells about Wendy and Diane; takes them to get filmed for Rent-A-Family. She decides the first applicant is suitable, prepares for an outing at the beach.

31:50: Panelist #2 says that society sells the happiness of families but families are diminishing. The panel discusses Rent-A-Family further.

41: More voices of women and children, mostly drowned under music and sound effects.

42:30: The first outing, to the beach, goes well until the fellow (un-named and voiceless) takes the girls to get ice cream.

51:40: The panel talks about Rent-A-Family further.

Legacy Synopsis

The program explores an organization that rents women with children to bachelors for days at a time. A woman talks about signing up with the program. Panel discussion about the program with a spokesman and questioners: men who choose a range of different families; renting spare children; the cost of different families; built in obsolescence; the relative value of long and short term relationships; the RAF as prostitution. Clips from the catalog of applicant videos against a background of chimes and Joe listing random nouns. The woman discusses her first experience in the program. Panel discussion continues: loneliness; the no parent family; intimacy in short term relationships; fast moving society, a bachelor in RAF commits suicide. More catalog clips. The woman describes the first meeting with her renter for a picnic on the beach. [Spoiler removed.] Panel discussion: the strangeness of the encounter as a positive, alienation in ordinary marriage.


Additional credits

The original broadcast credits state: "The performers were Barbara Sohmers, Arthur Miller, Tim Jerome, Nick Ullett, and Larry Block. Special thanks to Carmen, Thomas, Timo, Lynn, and Sarah. Rent A Family Part 1 was recorded at M&I Studios in New York City by Phil Capp, and at KCRW by Dave Weaver. Technical production by Tom Strother."


There is/was an actual "Rent-A-Family" company in Japan that sent actors to visit lonely parents - see "Running Out Of Time" (In Context, Winter 1994).

This show was so emotionally powerful, that the actors involved often broke down in tears (in real life) during the taping.


  1. This is the Rent A Family panel discussion theme: it plays before and during its appearances.