When Kristen Cone worried about her husband coming home late, the young mother acted on her suspicions in a novel way: she dialed up the producers of the new TV show Cheaters and said she had a job for them.
Private investigators working for the show trailed her husband, armed with tiny cameras and sometimes hiding in bushes, to see what he was up to. They caught him — multiple times — in moments of passion with another woman.
After showing the damning evidence to the wife, the show's producers arranged an on-air confrontation and got the results they were looking for: the wife ambushed her straying husband and his lady friend in the lobby of a hotel.
"Is this who you were with when Braden was screaming for formula?" Cone demanded when she saw her husband. Braden is the couple's infant son.
Cone ended up terminating what was once a happy marriage. She is about to become a single mother, caring for a 2-year-old daughter as well as Braden, who is 8 months old.
But she has no regrets about exposing her husband's indiscretions. "I don't feel sorry for him that he was on TV at all, because for me it was just as humiliating to sit there and have my friends say, 'Is he coming home tonight?'" she said.
And she does not regret going on the show. "I left knowing the truth," she said.
50 Episodes and Counting
There is clearly an appetite among viewers for this kind of television. Cheaters can be seen in nearly 200 cities in America. The show's producers have made about 50 episodes so far, and TV stations are signing up for more.
The show's creator, Dallas attorney Bobby Goldstein, said he gets 4,000 requests a month from people — men as well as women — who want their loved ones spied on.
One episode features a young man who discovers that his fiancée has taken up with another woman. "We are equal opportunity snoops," said Goldstein. "We want to paint the canvas with as much of a cross-section of life as we can possibly present in this show."
Goldstein denies the suggestion that the program is just a nationally televised Peeping Tom event. "If we were snooping in private places, I would not disagree," he said. "But anywhere somebody goes in public is fair game."
Staking claim to the moral high ground, the show's producers start each episode with an announcer saying, "Cheaters presents to you inspirational chronicles of humankind."
Critics, however, accuse the program of pushing the limits of bad taste. Many stations run the show in the wee hours of the morning, though at least one Cheaters star thinks it should be more widely available.
"I think it should be on prime time, I really do," said Cone.
Snooping Isn’t Cheap
It can take weeks of snooping to find out the truth. "We do a lot of sitting and waiting," said one Cheaters investigator.
ABCNEWS' Mike von Fremd and a crew rode along with the show while investigators followed a young college student whose boyfriend wanted to check her out before he proposed. She had told him that she was going to the bookstore, but the Cheaters cameras caught her hopping into another man's sports car.
After taking pictures of the young woman having dinner with the other man, the investigator caught the unsuspecting couple kissing good night. "This is concrete evidence to let us know this is more than just a friend," he said.
Such undercover work is expensive, and anyone who signs an agreement to be featured on the show is forewarned: if they back out at the last minute, they are expected to cover the costs of the investigation.
"A woman did get to the point where we were about to go and confront her husband and she wanted out," Goldstein recalled. "I said, 'Madam, you are the queen and we are just your soldiers, but we have advanced ourselves this far based on your instruction and if you do want out, please reimburse us.' It was about an $11,000 tab. At that point she did go through with the confrontation."
The producers admit that they sometimes pay money to show their faces on television without blurring them. As long as a nation of Peeping Toms keeps tuning in, the cheaters don't seem to mind their privacy being sacrificed for a fee.