Switched at Birth is an American teen/family drama television series that premiered on ABC Family on June 6, 2011, at 9:00 ET/PT. The one-hour scripted drama is set in the Kansas City metropolitan area, and revolves around two teenagers who were switched at birth and grew up in very different environments: one in the "old money" suburb of Mission Hills, Kansas, and the other in working-class East Riverside, Missouri. According to ABC Family, it is "the first mainstream television series to have multiple deaf and hard-of-hearing series regulars and scenes shot entirely in American Sign Language (ASL)".
The show's debut was ABC Family's highest-rated series debut for to date. The series won an honorary Peabody Award in 2013, and on July 30, ABC Family ordered a third season which premiered on January 13, 2014. On August 13, 2014, ABC Family renewed the series for a fourth season set to premiere on January 6th, 2015.
Bay Kennish, a teenage girl from the wealthy Kansas City suburb of Mission Hills, Kansas, discovers from a school lab assignment that her AB blood type is incompatible with her type A parents John and Kathryn. Genetic testing confirms she is not the Kennishes' biological daughter, which leads in turn to the revelation that the hospital mistakenly switched her with another newborn, Daphne Vasquez, who lives with her single mother Regina and grandmother Adriana in the low-income neighborhood of East Riverside, Missouri. Daphne is deaf, having lost her hearing as a result of contracting meningitis at age three. The Kennishes invite Daphne and Regina to their home, and after learning that Regina is struggling financially, propose that they move into their guest house with Adriana, an offer Regina accepts.
This forces the girls, along with both families, to understand their differences and embrace their similarities. The girls sometimes struggle with their identities, as Bay discovers she has inherited her artistic talent from Regina, and Daphne discovers she has inherited John's athletic skill and Kathryn's love of cooking. Both mothers learn to bond with their biological daughters, while often unintentionally angering their legal ones. John learns to relate to his new-found daughter by coaching her deaf school's basketball team and employing her in the office of one of the local chain of car washes that he owns. Bay is driven by a need to find and relate to her biological father Angelo Sorrento, who left Regina shortly after Daphne went deaf.
Bay Kennish was born to Regina Vasquez on October 22, 1995, at 1:22am, but was mistakenly given to Kathryn Kennish by the hospital. She was raised in Mission Hills, Kansas as the legal daughter of Kathryn and John Kennish. She is a passionate, talented artist, which as she learns, she inherited from Regina along with her dark hair and Latina features. A student at Buckner Hall, she is academically challenged, and on learning of her birth switch with Daphne, suffers a bit of an identity crisis. In the first season, she and Daphne's deaf friend Emmett fall in love, giving her a strong incentive to improve her ASL skills. She feels Emmett is one of the few people who understand her passion for art, because of his own love of photography. Driven by the desire to find and relate to her biological father, she identifies him after a bit of detective work with Emmett's help, and eventually meets him. She breaks her relationship with Emmett when she cannot forgive him for making the foolish mistake of cheating on her with her ex-childhood friend who has since become her enemy. She has a passion to paint street art throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area, and finds a kindred spirit in Zarra, another street artist from East Riverside, whose friendship alienates her further from her legal parents. Accused of cheating and called before a Buckner honor board when her French grade suddenly improves (due to the help of her half-French biological father Angelo Sorrento), she decides to avoid the problem by transferring to Carlton's pilot program for hearing students.
Daphne Paloma Vasquez was born to Kathryn Kennish on October 22, 1995, but was mistakenly given to Regina Vasquez by the hospital, and raised as her legal daughter in the working-class neighborhood of East Riverside, Missouri. She inherited red hair from her biological mother, and lost her hearing after a battle with bacterial meningitis at age three. She wears hearing aids, which give her some sensation of ambient noise but not the ability to hear speech. She attends Carlton School for the Deaf, and has become accomplished in lip reading and American Sign Language (ASL). She is a vegetarian, who shares her biological mother's love of cooking, and also loves to play basketball, inheriting her father's athletic skill. She has become angry at the man she thinks is her father, Regina's boyfriend Angelo Sorrento, for leaving shortly after she became deaf, but gradually learns to overcome this after he returns upon learning of the switch. She adapts fairly readily and relates well to her biological parents, though as the series progresses, this relationship is sometimes strained. In the second and third seasons, she starts to get in trouble and becomes involved in a blackmail scheme. After performing community service in a free medical cllinic, she decides to pursue a medical career.
Kathryn Kennish is Daphne's red-haired biological mother, and Bay's legal mother, with an older son Toby. She has explained Bay's dark hair to herself as a recessive trait of her Italian grandmother. She is a passionate cook; gifted with hospitality, she graciously opens her home to Daphne, Regina, Regina's mother Adriana, and later, Angelo. She learns ASL, relates fairly well with Daphne, and is able to exchange parental advice with Regina. Angry at the hospital upon learning of her daughter's switch, she pursues a lawsuit with her husband. She decides to help herself deal with the switch, and also to counteract a yellow-journalist treatment of the story, by writing her own book about the switch. Regina, at first mysteriously unwilling to cooperate either with the lawsuit or the book, eventually changes her mind. Kathryn feels guilty about failing to detect the switch for almost sixteen years, after meeting another mother called to testify in the lawsuit, who detected the hospital switched her baby and was reunited after only nine days. The situation, exacerbated by Bay's alienation, places strains on her marriage. Later in the series, Kathryn decides to write another book, a novel.
Regina Vasquez is Bay's biological mother, and Daphne's legal mother. Puerto Rican on her mother's side, she has raised Daphne alone since the age of three, when her boyfrined Angelo Sorrento left them and disappeared. Fiercely independent and proud, Regina has instilled these traits in Daphne by learning and teaching her ASL, encouraging her to learn lip reading, and sacrificing to give her the best deaf education possible. Regina was once a talented artist, but sank into alcoholism from which she recovered through Alcoholics Anonymous. Regina is adept at concealing the truth and lying convincingly when she feels she has a good reason. The hospital's lawyers discover that she has known about the switch since the girls were three, when Angelo suspected her of sleeping with another man and obtained DNA tests which proved he wasn't Daphne's biological father; then she hired a private investigator who found and photographed Bay, but she decided Bay's life would be better with the Kenneshes. After Angelo returns, Regina agrees to a sham marriage to prevent his deportation due to an assault and battery charge he faces in Italy. After reuniting with an old male friend, Regina briefly relapses to her alcoholism, and spends some time in a rehabilitation program. When Angelo is hospitalized for a serious car crash, we learn in a flashback that he didn't leave voluntarily as she had led everyone to believe, but that she kicked him out, from anger over his jealousy.
John Kennish is Toby's father, Bay's legal father, and Daphne's biological father. John is a former MLB Baseball player who owns a chain of car washes. He is a state senator from the Republican Party. John is at first resentful towards Regina and does not trust her, especially after it comes out that she knew about the switch. He feels Regina kept him from his daughter. John suffers a stress-related heart attack, during which he has a fantasy about what it would have been like had Regina come forward about the switch. He realizes that both girls were better off staying where they were. John feels guilt over having denied Angelo a loan shortly before Angelo is declared brain-dead, suspecting Angelo's car crash could have been a suicide.
Toby Kennish is John and Kathryn's son, Bay's legal older brother, and Daphne's biological older brother. He was the lead guitarist of Guitar Face, a band that included Wilkie and eventually Emmett. Toward the end of the season, Toby meets a girl named Nikki at his church, and together with Emmett form a new band. Toby has to deal with a gambling addiction that leads to him losing money and selling his stuff, but works through it with the help of Regina. Toby and Nikki get engaged and elope in the season 2 finale, but Nikki leaves soon after to volunteer overseas with her church for six months. When she returns, she tells Toby that she would like to be involved long-term overseas and that she would like him to come with her, but he turns her down and they discuss a divorce since they cannot stay married and be in separate countries. Initially, Toby regrets the break up and wants to follow Nikki where she goes, but realizes that would not be fair to either one of them. He takes a trip to Iceland and feels renewed upon returning with new prospects.
Angelo Sorrento is Bay's biological father, the boyfriend (and later husband) of Regina. After finding out that three-year-old Daphne was not his biological child, he left Regina, believing she was unfaithful to him. Half French and half Italian, he spent most of the intervening thirteen years in Italy. He returns after learning of the switch in order to meet Bay and reconnect with Daphne and Regina. He joins the Kennishes in their suit of the hospital, and is awarded $5 million, which he ends up losing in a bad investment in a restaurant. He has fathered another illegitimate child before coming back to Kansas City. After his second daughter is born, he tries to raise her before giving her up in an open adoption. Angelo dies in season 3, episode 16, apparently from a cerebral hemorrage suffered in a car crash following an argument with Regina. It is subsequently discovered Angelo had a brain aneurysm which ruptured.
Emmett Bledsoe is Daphne's childhood best friend. He inherited deafness from both his parents, and initially does not communicate verbally, or read lips as well as Daphne does. He had a childhood crush on Daphne for eight years, but has given up on waiting for her to return the interest. He tends to be mistrustful of the hearing world until he meets the Kennishes. He rides a motorcycle, loves photography, and plays the drums so well that Toby recruits him for his bands Guitar Face, and later Awesome Sauce. He develops a relationship with Bay after helping her find her father. They also bond over their mutual love of the graphic arts (Bay's painting), and date. This motivates him to improve his lip reading, and to take speech therapy. His parents are divorced; he lives with his protective mother who tries to shield him from his permissive father and father's girlfriend. While upset over his parents' custody arrangements, he has a desperate one-night-stand with Toby's girlfriend, which causes Bay to end the relationship.
Melody Bledsoe is Emmett's mother and Regina's best friend, and also a guidance counselor and substitute basketball coach at Carlton School for the Deaf. Proudly deaf, she is protective of her son, in contrast to his father's permissiveness. Mistrustful of the hearing culture, she initially sees Bay as a bad influence on Emmett, but gradually warms up to her as she discovers Bay genuinely cares for Emmett.
Adriana Vasquez, Regina's Puerto Rican mother and Bay's biological grandmother, lives with Regina and Daphne in the Kennish guest house, and speaks ASL fluently. Fiercely supportive of Regina and Daphne, she doesn't approve of Regina's off-and-on-again relationship with Angelo.
James "Wilkie" Wilkerson III, Toby's rich best friend and bass player of the band, Guitar Face. Wilkie falls in love with Daphne, and they date until Wilkie's father sends him away to boarding school.
Simone Sinclair, former childhood friend, now an enemy of Bay. She dates Toby, until she betrays Bay and Toby by sleeping with Emmett.
Tyler "Ty" Mendoza, Daphne's close friend from East Riverside. Bay falls in love with him, but breaks up as he joins the Army and is deployed to Iraq.
Cameron Bledsoe is Emmett's deaf father. Extremely permissive, he does not have custody of Emmett until he is old enough to legally decide where he wants to live. When Cameron's equally permissive live-in girlfriend is discovered to be selling marijuana, he kicks her out and decides not to fight Melody for custody of Emmett.
Olivia is Cameron Bledsoe's hard of hearing girlfriend. She offers Bay and Emmett wine, and deals marijuana which she hides in the garage.
Christopher Wiehl as Patrick, owner of a local art gallery whom Regina asks to assess Bay's artwork. He becomes romantically involved with Regina until her sham marriage to Angelo, which Patrick perceives to be based on real feelings.
Zarra, Bay's street artist friend, also known as "Medusa". Living in an abandoned trailer in East Riverside, Zarra hangs with a gang of street artists, who are pursued by a rival gang. When she and one of her friends are jailed, she asks Bay for the bail money, which Bay steals from her father's business. She leaves Bay in Texas, after a failed attempt to see a renowned street artist in Mexico.
"Chef Jeff" Reycraft, head chef at Maize Restaurant and Daphne's boss, with whom she falls in love. Daphne sacrifices her job for their relationship, then finds he doesn't love her. Angelo decks him at the end of season one.
Travis, an initially militant deaf student at Carlton, who has a problem with Daphne's newly privileged status. She discovers his attitude is based on his parent's inability to learn ASL or cope with his deafness. She persuades John to hire him at the car wash, and his attitude softens. He then falls in love with Daphne. She does not return these feelings, but eventually becomes his friend.
Noah, a hearing pilot student at Carlton who befriends Bay. He has lost 60% of his hearing due to inherited Meniere's disease.
Nikki Papagus, a Christian singer who replaces Wilkie in Toby's new band. She has a boyfriend, but decides to drop him for Toby. They get married at City Hall.
Natalie Pierce, a militant deaf student at Carlton. She bullies Bay, whom she resents along with all the hearing students in the pilot program, who slow the classes down with their poor ASL skills, and whom she sees as competing for limited school funding. After Melody forces a weekend team-building trip on the pilot students and the militant deaf students, Natalie reaches out to Bay and becomes her friend.
On August 1, 2011, ABC Family announced that they were ordering more episodes for the first season of Switched at Birth, bringing the first season to a total of 30 episodes. The series continued with a winter premiere on January 3, 2012, ending on March 20, 2012, with 12 episodes. The series began airing the remaining 8 episodes of its first season beginning September 3, 2012. On August 17, 2012 (2012-08-17), ABC Family renewed Switched at Birth for a second season; it premiered on January 7, 2013 (2013-01-07). After the spring finale on March 11, 2013 (2013-03-11), the second season resumed on June 10, 2013 (2013-06-10). On July 30, 2013, ABC Family renewed the show for a third season to premiere on January 13, 2014.
The show has an American Sign Language expert who helps make sure that the sign language used by the four fluent regulars (Katie Leclerc, Sean Berdy, Constance Marie, and Marlee Matlin) all employ a similar dialect.
Airing on March 4, 2013, to mark the 25th anniversary of the "Deaf President Now" protests at Gallaudet University, the season 2 episode "Uprising" (which featured a similar student-led protest surrounding the closure of Carlton School for the Deaf) was produced almost entirely in sign language with few spoken lines.
Katie Leclerc as Daphne Vasquez: the biological daughter of John and Kathryn Kennish. Hard of hearing rather than deaf, Leclerc learned ASL at age 17, before she was diagnosed at age 20 with Ménière's disease which runs in her family. She developed a deaf accent for her role as Daphne, but speaks without it briefly in a scene in season 1, episode 9 where Daphne dreams the switch never occurred, and she was raised as Bay Kennish and retains her hearing. She also speaks without the accent through almost the entire episode 15 of season 2, "Ecce Mono", which is an alternative reality in which Daphne was raised by the Kennishes from age three and given a cochlear implant.
Lea Thompson as Kathryn Kennish: Daphne's biological mother, and Bay's legal mother. Thompson directed two episodes: "Prudence, Avarice, Lust, Justice, Anger" in season 2, and "Your Body is a Battleground" in season 3. First known as Marty McFly's mom in the Back to the Future trilogy, Thompson starred in the 1990s sitcom Caroline in the City and in the Jane Doe series of mystery movies on the Hallmark Channel.
Constance Marie as Regina Vasquez: Bay's biological mother, and Daphne's legal mother. Marie appeared in the 1997 biopic Selena as the singer's mother, and in the 2002-2007 sitcom George Lopez as Lopez's wife.
Max Lloyd-Jones as Noah, Bay's hard of hearing friend. Lloyd-Jones appeared in the 2011 TV series Teen Wolf and the 20112 film Flicka: Country Pride. The character parallels the real-life situation of Katie LeClerc, with hearing loss due to inherited Meniere's disease.
Stephanie Nogueras as Natalie Pierce, Bay's deaf friend.
Meredith Baxter appears in season 1 as Kathryn's mother Bonnie, a co-investor in John's car wash business, who turns her favor from Bay to Daphne upon learning of the switch. Baxter, married to comic actor David Birney from 1974 to 1989 and billing herself as Meredith Baxter-Birney, later appeared in the 1976-80 drama series Family, and starred in the 1982-89 situation comedy Family Ties, and has become a veteran television character actor and producer.
Corbin Bernsen appears in season 1 as Wilkie's father, James Wilkes Jr., who has the unpleasant task of telling Daphne he is sending his screw-up son off to boarding school. Bernsen is best known from the 1986-94 TV series L.A. Law, the current TV comedy-dramaPsych, and the Major League series of feature films.
Shelly Long appears in season 1 as Rya Bellows, a publisher who encourages Kathryn to write her own memoir of the switch. First known from her starring role in the TV comedy Cheers from 1982 to 1987, Long has starred in several comedy feature films, notably as Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch Movie and two sequels.
The first 72 episodes are available on Netflix's Watch Instantly service.
The show's premiere on the ABC Family network was the highest-rated ever, with 3.3 million viewers. The total, including the first episode's repeat later that evening, was an estimated 4.9 million.
ABC Family promoted the series by launching an online game, "Switched at Birth: Hunt for the Code" one week before the premiere. Bay, a graffiti artist, left her signature stencil image on ten different websites, and players searched for the picture and accompanying code to redeem sneak peeks and enter a drawing to win $4,000. Each weekday, ABCFamily.com posted two clues hinting at a site featuring the image, and instructed users to scan the code with a Microsoft Tag Reader for exclusive content. Additionally, each code had two letters for fans to collect and enter to win upon completion of the ten-digit code.