Melissa Kinton was beside herself.
The Blount County wife and mother of two came home last summer to find her husband had turned their only storage room into an 18th century tavern.
And to make matters even more comical, a panel of three judges would decide whether or not her husband, Will Kinton, a Fort Loudoun State Park ranger who also does living history re-enactments, got to keep his tavern.
The “judges” are celebrities who hear grievances between spouses as part of the NBC comedy reality show “The Marriage Ref.”
The couple’s case will be seen on the Sunday, July 3, edition of “The Marriage Ref,” which airs at 10 p.m.
How the couple went from Calderwood Highway to 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City started a year ago when one of Melissa’s friend’s saw the Kintons arguing about the 18th century historical accuracy of a plastic Elmo Sippy cup.
“Will is a park ranger at Fort Loudoun State Park in Vonore, and they do a re-enactment from the French and Indian War. Will dresses in period clothing. The families of the people who work there can come and participate in the camp,” she said. “It is a different kind of way to camp.”
Melissa said she had taken a plastic Elmo Sippy cup for son Zeb, who was 1 at the time.
“With little kids you have lots of things like diapers and Sippy cups, and you try to disguise all that stuff to keep the camp site historically accurate,” she said. “A friend of mine came to Fort Loudoun to see us and witnessed this huge argument Will and I were having over the Sippy cup. Will lost his marbles because the Sippy cup wasn’t historically accurate. My friend thought that was hilarious. Who fights about Sippy cups being historically accurate?”
Melissa’s friend emailed “The Marriage Ref” producers. “She told me she did it, and I figured they would never call. But eight months later, they called and said, ‘Is this true?’ Next thing they knew, show producers were talking to them about a show appearance -- not to debate the Sippy cup issue, but to look at whether or not Melissa should get to reclaim her storage room that Will had turned into a replica of an 18th-century tavern.
“It turned out it was a really fun experience. The whole thing has been really fun,” Melissa said.
Will added that his wife just doesn’t appreciate the finer points of 18th-century drinking vessels.
“She was not real pleased drinking out of a cow horn, either,” he said.
“Right,” admitted Melissa. “That is disgusting. You see how we sometimes have a difference of opinion.”
The tavern room that was argued before the judges on the show started in July of 2010, when a pregnant Melissa came home after a weekend away to find her husband transforming her only storage room into an 18th Century tavern.
Will said, tongue-in-cheek, that he was simply trying to save his wife from becoming a hoarder. “The room was a storage room when we bought the house. It was originally part of the garage that the previous owner had turned into a storage room,” Will said. “After seeing the show ‘Hoarders,’ I needed to do my wife a service and keep her from winding up on those shows, so I turned the storage room into something useful - an 18th century tavern.”
Will said that while this was the house’s main storage area, his wife had other options. “This house has closets, and we have a storage area outside. It seemed reasonable to put a whole room toward this project and encourage her not to keep so much stuff.”
Melissa said the storage room had all the Christmas decorations in it and several big items belonging to their children. And it was the timing of the tavern project that bothered her.
“I was seven or eight months pregnant. While I’m getting the baby’s room ready, he’s frantically working to get the tavern done,” she said. “What is wrong with this picture?”
Will remembers the timeline differently.
“We had talked about the tavern project a long time,” he said. “I started the tavern project long before we had a baby on the way, but I stepped it up to get it finished before the birth.”
Melissa disagreed. “I was gone for a weekend. When I came back, my shelves were ripped out,” she said.
The Kintons met when they both attended the University of Tennessee at Martin. They have been married 16 years.
“He has always been super-focused on history. His major was history, and it has always been something he wanted to do. We moved to East Tennessee for this history-related job, and I made the commitment to go where his career took us,” she said. “You can’t go just anywhere and have a job working with a living history program. It has been a wonderful experience. We’ve lived on a state park and met a lot of people we wouldn’t have met otherwise. It has also been a little weird. People don’t always dress up and drink out of horn cups. You have to really love someone to commit to that.”
Will says he is happy his job affords him the opportunity to explore his passion for history. “I came on at Fort Loudoun as a seasonal interpretive ranger doing living history programs for the park in 1997, and in early 1999, I got a full-time job,” he said. “I realized with our historical state park, that was the best avenue for my interests.”
In his job, Will regularly dresses in period costume from the French and Indian war times. Because of his passion for history, he often insists anything he deals with regarding the 18th century must be historically accurate.
The producers from the show called in October and asked if the email they received from her friend eight months earlier was true. A week later the producers asked them to come to auditions in Nashville. “Once they called us, it went fast. It happened that the day of auditions, we were going through Nashville en route to see Will’s family. It worked out, and, within a week or two, they said, ‘We’d like to send a film crew to your house.’ Within a week of that call, the film crew was here. Next thing we knew they were asking when we could come to New York,” Melissa said.
The couple said the producers were very accommodating. “Our daughter was born in July, and she was barely 3 months old. Our 3-year-old I left with my parents, and they let us bring the baby,” Melissa said.
They stayed in New York for two nights and three days. “We didn’t have a lot of time to do much, but we did catch one Broadway show,” she said.
The three judges were Tracy Morgan, Regis Philbin and Susie Essman. “I really liked Tracy Morgan. He was so nice and pleasant, and Regis was pretty cool,” Will said. “I had always seen him as this talk show guy. I never thought he’d be someone I would enjoy being around, but he was a regular guy and really friendly as well.”
Melissa agreed with her husband on Morgan. “Even though he did not side with me, Tracy Morgan was my favorite as well,” she said.
Melissa said their families couldn’t believe they were going on the show. And at first, they weren’t too excited about it, confusing the show’s executive producer, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, with another infamous Jerry - Jerry Springer.
“All of our family was like, ‘You can’t do this.’ They thought it was Jerry Springer. We kept trying to tell people it was Jerry Seinfeld, and that it wasn’t one of those ‘Who’s your baby daddy?’ shows,” Melissa said.
Melissa said their friends are usually split on keeping the tavern. “The wives are always with me, and the husbands are like, ‘A tavern! That is so cool.’ He feels he has this kindred spirit with all the guys, and they encouraged him,” she said.
Will Kinton said the show didn’t hurt their relationship. “It gives us something to joke about,” he said.
Melissa agrees it was a good experience. “It was a big adventure. We got to go places and have a lot of fun,” she said.
Will had this advice for any couples going on the show. “Record everything because your spouse will lie in front of a judge,” he said.
Melissa has her own advice for her sisters in marriage: “Keep a good sense of humor. You may think you want to kill them, but for the sake of the children, keep a good sense of humor.”