What happens after the heady rush of romance settles down into the comfortable routine of married life? Well, if you were a ring-sporting British couple from the mid 60s to 2010, you could always go on Mr and Mrs, a white-knuckle quiz show in which pairs of committed lovebirds were tested on their knowledge of each others’ everyday habits. Featuring probing questions about where hubby kept his slippers and what sort of fireplace the wife would like to install in the house, the show was a celebration of a side of romance all too infrequently highlighted on TV.
3. Dating in the Dark
In an attempt to find out if inner beauty is really as important as everyone likes to pretend, LivingTV devised a format in which singletons meet one another for a date in a pitch-black studio to see if they click without the distraction of appearances getting in the way. Does it work? What do you think? Still, it’s a schadenfreude-tinged giggle…
4. The Bachelor
It’s always nice to feel wanted, and no show affords its protagonist this glowing sense of satisfaction like Channel 5’s premier dating format, which might as well be called Whittle Down the Harem. Rugby’s own Gavin Henson walked through the show in a daze, and who can blame him, having 25 women throwing themselves at him on primetime TV for weeks on end? Essentially, all Gavin had to do was meet all of these women and decide which one he liked best. It doesn’t get much simpler than that, does it, folks?
5. Blind Date
Where would this list have been without Cilla and Our Graham, whose wholesale rip-off of The Dating Game is still the yardstick by which all other romance-fests are judged? Notable mainly for its crowbarred-in sub-Carry On innuendo and crushing sense of disappointment, Blind Date was nevertheless an institution that lasted for nearly 18 years. Needless to say, few of the romances concocted on the show survived for anywhere near that amount of time…
6. Beauty and the Geek
A mutual cramming session for ladies who know more about mascara than microbiology and gents whose intellectual achievements far outweigh their romantic ones, this US import lasted only one season in Blighty, but what a series it was. Pairing up page three girls with theologians and the like, the programme saw these unlikely couples trying to understand each other’s specialised worlds in the hopes of bagging a £100,000 prize. If ever a TV programme bore out Opportunities by the Pet Shop Boys with its line “I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks/Let’s make lots of money”, it was this…
7. Farmer Wants a Wife
For those rural souls who dream of teaching a city lass the workings of their muck-spreader and townie girls who yearn for the great outdoors, what could be better than this format? A brace of farmers meet and attempt to pair off with ladies who think they’ll be OK with helping to birth calves and dig drainage ditches, all under the watchful gaze of Louise Redknapp. Though one can’t help wondering if Rebecca Loos might have been approached to present, what with her intimate knowledge of the barnyard and all…
8. Would Like to Meet
A break from the norm, this one, in that it featured a gaggle of experts transforming a misfit singleton into a red hot Casanova or Casanovette. With a relationship expert, a confidence coach and a stylist on hand, the show wasn’t just a dating format but a complete mind and body overhaul for its participants, and one that yielded some genuine successes.
9. (Celebrity) Love Island
Famous as the celebrity reality show that featured people so far down the Z-list they had to change the title for fear of the Trade Descriptions people, this curious little number was essentially Big Brother on a Fijian island, in which viewers voted which pair to send into a “love shack” in order to get to know one another better, and whittled the holidaying “celebs” down to a final pair who received a £50,000 cash prize. A cynical free holiday for the participants, the show is best remembered as the nadir of TV’s reality and dating formats.
What becomes of the broken hearted? asked Motown crooner Jimmy Ruffin back in the 60s. These days, they end up on primetime dating shows. Yes, if Cupid’s arrows have been falling wide of the mark and the world of online romance has thrown up more scammers than suitors, the lonesome can always turn to those modern-day matchmakers, TV’s light entertainment commissioning editors, and try to find love in the studio.
Game shows pegged around romance have been with us since The Dating Game in the 1970s, which patented the formula of a lone singleton asking innuendo-laced questions of three potential mates on primetime TV.
Mind you, since those heady days there have been all manner of innovative formats devoted to matters of the heart showcased on the box, the latest of which is Channel 4’s Come Date with Me, which began this week. The show sees a single lady whittle down five suitors from Monday to Friday, eliminating one chap per night until she finds her beau. It’s a novel way to go about finding a partner, but it’s far from the only off-the-wall romance show to see the light of a cathode ray.
And so, in tribute to mankind’s unceasing fascination with love and nosing into other people’s private lives, here are our all-time favourite dating show formats…
1. Take Me Out
One part love shack, one part cattle market, ITV’s latest foray into the world of dating is a gloriously crass Saturday-night ode to the fickle nature of love. Its format is simple: 30 single women congregate in a studio, each armed with a light that they can either leave on or switch off to demonstrate their reaction to a single man the producers have wheeled on to impress them. If none of the women leave their light on to symbolise interest, and what the programme calls a “blackout” occurs, the poor chap is packed off home to his Baywatch posters and microwave meals-for-one, but should a suitor impress the ladies enough to keep their lights on throughout his patter, he gets the pick of which lass to take on a date. Yes it’s crude and possibly a little cruel, but who could stay angry with a show whose catchphrase is the gloriously inane “no likey, no lighty”?
And finally, the simplest dating show ever to grace the British television screen. Take Davina McCall (or Holly Willoughby for one series) and a camera crew out onto the streets of Britain, get them to find a single person, then lead that singleton around to eye up people they fancy around town. If the person they decide that they fancy is also single, send them on a date and record their reactions the following day. Rinse and repeat. Simples, as that blinking meerkat might have put it.
So, what’s your favourite TV dating show? Ever been on one and want to share your experiences? Don’t keep it all bottled up, post a comment and share the love…