TV Eye

Love on the Air

The Dating Game (1965-1974) made it look so innocent. Four singles -- a woman and three bachelors (or a man and three bachelorettes) hidden behind a screen -- go through a litany of silly, marginally suggestive questions. In the end, a couple is paired up and sent off on their first date with the show's bouncy theme music playing in the background, sealed with a kiss blown to the TV audience. Compared to contemporary dating shows, The Dating Game was downright Victorian.

Shows since The Dating Game include: The Love Connection, Change of Heart, The Blame Game, Blind Date, A Dating Story, and in a serialized way, Temptation Island. When I look at these post-Dating Game shows, I think, "Thank God I'm not out there." Not that I would be, according to their contestant profiles. Most of the contestants are young, beautiful in a sun-kissed-by-the-beach sort of way, and incredibly unself-conscious. (I mean, who wouldn't break out laughing or turn 10 shades of red trying to maneuver that first goodnight kiss with a camera, lights, and God-knows-who-else surrounding you for just the right shot?) Just in time for Valentine's Day -- or to celebrate it being over -- I offer my take on a few modern-day dating games.

The Likable:

A Dating Story (weekdays, noon and 12:30pm, TLC): Part of a stable of "real life" tales on TLC (A Wedding Story, A Baby Story), A Dating Story is the tamest dating show of the lot. A couple is brought together by a "matchmaker," a friend known to both of them. Each member of the potential couple is given camera time to explain how he or she feels about love and relationships, and then it's off to the date. For some reason, horseback riding is a favorite activity, always resulting in the male of the pair getting the pokiest of the two horses and feeling emasculated. I like this show because the couples are not always blond, buff, beautiful, or in their 20s. Chances for public humiliation: low.

No, for real sniping and backbiting, watch Blind Date (weekdays, 11:30pm, the WB). I started watching this show because I wanted to know what Papi Chulo, my one and only for eight years, was tittering about in the other room. The matchmakers of this show are the Blind Date producers, who swear they don't cast for conflict. They swear. Still, they manage to cast a number of ill-mannered, loud-mouthed, and sometimes downright bizarre contestants. What makes this show likable are the thought bubbles that appear over the couples' heads as the date progresses and the pop-up color commentary by cartoon characters Therapist Joe and the Obvious Guy. Chances for public humiliation: medium. (It makes you cringe, though, when one person in the pair gushes, "I'd love to go out with Katerina another time," while the other solemnly states, "I hope I never see Thor again.")

The Twisted:

Change of Heart (weekdays, 7:30pm, KVC): This precursor to Temptation Island takes a couple in a longstanding relationship (at least three months) and tests their commitment by sending each on a "dream date" with someone who has all the attributes their current partner lacks. Prior to stepping out, the couple is encouraged to reveal embarrassing, often intimate, details about one another. It's humorous in the same way watching someone fall down in public is. You can't help but smirk at the pratfall, but you feel immediate remorse when you realize how painful the fall must be. But the real pain is yet to come. Following each dream date, the couple and their dates are reunited for the moment of truth, in which each member of the couple reveals their desire to either stay together or make a change of heart -- meaning they want out of the relationship. Chance for public humiliation: high, very high, painfully high. It's rubber-necking relationship disasters.

The Sick and Twisted:

Temptation Island (Wednesday, 8pm, Fox): Although this show is quite popular, I stopped watching it after the second episode. The way the Islanders approach their relationships is the way I approach buying a pair of expensive shoes: Do they look good? Do they make me feel good? Do I like this color? Will they last? If they go out of style too soon, I can give them to Goodwill -- and buy some new shoes! Chance for public humiliation: sky-high, and the show isn't over yet.

They may call it the "game of love," but hearts are tender things, not built to be splat against the wall like novelty goo. Yet, the danger of this sort of thing happening is what pulls viewers in to Temptation Island, Change of Heart, and, to a lesser degree, Blind Date. If this is the world I'd have to look forward to should Papi Chulo dump me, I think I could live a very happy single life, with trips to Forbidden Fruit. The libido is easily tended to. The heart is a more delicate matter.


On the Roadshow

The Antiques Roadshow's visit to Austin last year begat two episodes, the first of which airs Monday. Treasures from the attics include: a pair of Chinese headdresses made in the 1920s, a 19th-century scrimshaw domino set, rock & roll memorabilia from the 1960s and 1970s, a collection of African-American dolls, and a letter written in 1868 by Ulysses S. Grant accepting the Republican nomination for President. The Austin episodes of Antiques Roadshow air Feb. 19 and 26, 8pm, on KLRU. (For more on the Austin filming of Antiques Roadshow, see Rockin' the Roadshow)


How Far Will Reality TV Go?

One of the reported "hot tickets" at the recent Sundance Film Festival was Series 7, a satire of the so-called reality craze. Perhaps it's better to call it an omen, since writer-director Daniel Minahan wrote the movie in 1995, well before Survivor and the rest of its ilk made a blip on the pop-culture radar. The reality show of Series 7 is called The Contenders and features six participants forced to take out their competition by any means possible. Forget gagging on unmentionable animal parts or toting buckets of water, these contenders resort to hunting and bagging their prey, which happens to be their fellow contenders.

"I tried to create this inside-out world where entertainment reigns supreme," Minahan said in a TV Guide interview published Feb. 10. However, some say the inside-out world of Series 7 is well on its way to being the reality of reality TV.

While I do think there is reason for discussion of just how far reality television will go, particularly with the upcoming actors and writers' strike, I believe -- I have to believe -- that good taste and common sense will prevail. All right, maybe common sense. Series 7 might be a wake-up call. Speaking of calls, I was contacted by the film's promotional folks, asking if I knew of any groups who gather in a public place to watch reality shows. My response was "no," but I can't imagine there aren't any. So, now that my curiosity is piqued, I'm asking to hear from any group of seven or more that gathers in a public space to watch their favorite reality show. Send your information to me at: tveye@austinchronicle.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

temptation island, dating game, a dating story, blind date, change of heart, antiques roadshow, series 7

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