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Dating game show

Dating game shows are television game shows, some say reality game shows, that incorporate a dating system in the form of a game with clear rules. Human matchmaking is involved only in selecting the game's contestants - usually for amusement value as opposed to any concern for their happiness or compatibility. The audience sees only the game - an important feature of all dating game shows is that the contestants have little or no previous knowledge of each other, and are exposed to each other only through the game, which may include viewing a photograph or at least knowing the basic criteria for participation (typically participants are not already married).

Popular dating game shows were an innovation of TV producer Chuck Barris in the 1970s. The Dating Game[?], his first, put one female 'bachelorette' or one male 'bachelor' behind a screen to ask questions of three potential mates of the opposite sex - thus hearing their answers and voices but not seeing them. The audience could of course see them all, and the various suitors were able to describe their rivals in uncomplimentary ways, which made the show work well as a general devolution of dignity. Questions were often obviously rigged to get ridiculous responses, or be obvious allusions to penis or breast size.

The Newlywed Game[?], by contrast, another Barris show, had recently-married couples competing to answer questions about each others' preferences. The couple who knew each other the best would win. Sometimes others got divorced. Once, someone divorced after appearing on the Newlywed Game got a 'second chance' on the Dating Game. Gimmicks were the lifeblood of all such shows.

The genre waned for a while but The New Dating Game[?] and the UK version Blind Date[?] kept it alive, and the old shows were popular in re-runs[?], unusual for any game show. Cable TV revived some interest in the 1980s and 1990s and eventually new shows began to be made along the old lines. Gay variations began to appear on a few specialty channels.

Other shows focused on the conventional blind date[?], where two people were set up and then captured on video, sometimes with comments or subtitles that made fun of their dating behavior. He Said She Said[?] focused not on setting up the date, but on comparing the couple's different impressions afterwards, and for their cooperation offering to fund a second date. These resembled the reality shows that began to emerge at about the same time in the 1990s.

A completely new type of dating show merged it with the reality game show and produced shows where the emphasis was on realistic actions and tensions, but which used less realistic scenarios than the traditional blind date:

  • Temptation Island[?], where long-standing heterosexual couples were deliberately separated and made to watch each other's mates interacting romantically on and after dates, making extensive use of video which is the only means by which they could communicate on the island.
  • The Fifth Wheel[?], where four people, two of one sex and two of another, are allowed to meet and bond slightly, but then a fifth wheel of one or the other sex, but always a heterosexual, enters and attempts to break up the equilibrium.
  • Who Wants to Marry A Multi-Millionaire[?], which actually set up a real marriage, and put women in the situation of competing to marry a millionare bachelor.
  • The Bachelor[?], which did likewise, with the twist that the bachelor was reputed to be a millionaire, but wasn't, although the cash prize offered by surprise at the end eventually made the deceptive scenario a bit less abusive.

Some common threads run through these shows. When contestants are removed it is usually one at a time to drag out the action and get audience sympathy for specific players. In shows involving couples, there is a substantial incentive to break up any of the existing relationships. In shows involving singles, there is a mismatch of numbers ensuring constant competition. This is what creates the action, the tension, and the humiliation when someone is rejected.

So far, gay versions of these more realistic shows have not emerged. Some gay and straight romances have however been sparked on the other reality game shows, suggesting that they too may really be 'dating shows' in disguise. But any social situation has the potential to result in romance, especially work.

A sobering caveat of the power of television and romance in combination came when a popular dating variant of the talk show, inviting secret admirers[?] to meet on the stage, backfired on the Jenny Jones[?] show. The admirer was a homosexual friend of a heterosexual man who was so outraged that he later murdered the admirer. The secret admirer variant of the talk show has remained popular, e.g. it is still done on Oprah, but with less emotionally loaded surprises, and much more careful checking of the guests' backgrounds and attitudes.


See also: speed dating

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