television devolved to its lowest form with the recent rash
of reality-dating shows? Not really. These programs are just
the latest craze in the reality TV genre, and the Nielsen research
ratings are proving viewers want to watch. While we may love
to hate them, we watch them, and in enormous numbers. FOXs Joe
Millionaire and ABCs The Bachelorette scored
record ratings, while NBCs Meet My Folks hit the
long before Joe Millionaire there was Chuck Barris The
Dating Game, which set the standard for reality-dating
shows in 1965. The original formula was simple. A pretty girl
cross-examines three eligible bachelors she cant see
and then chooses one based solely on his answers. The prize
was a date paid for by the network. As the show evolved, these
dates became exotic weekend getaways with a chaperone.
Game was a great success, airing from 1965 to 1986, and
it gave Barris the opportunity to create other reality game
shows including The Newlywed Game and The Gong
to the recent film Confessions of Dangerous Mind, based
on Barris autobiographical book of the same name, it
was "sex, romance and the bullshit of dating" that
inspired him to create The Dating Game.
looked to create shows that unveiled peoples preconceived
notions about dating or marriage. When developing The Newlywed
Game, Barris felt that just about any husband or wife would
sell out their spouse to win a refrigerator or lawn mower.
According to Barris in a NPR Fresh Air interview with Terry
Gross in 1986, the game evolved into a microcosm of marriage
in society. Contestants on The Newlywed Game had a 40
percent divorce rate, which mirrored the overall U.S. divorce
rate during the shows heyday. It was everyday people
that inspired him and everyday people that set the premise
for his shows. "I looked to the household for my ideas
because my shows were people. I wanted highly identifiable
shows where the audience could identify with what was going
on," he said.
TV producers didnt realize the potential for reality
TV back in the 1960s. Until Survivor in 1999, there
were few reality-based programs on prime time. After Survivor,
which was a ratings juggernaut, everyone wanted in on spawning
the current craze for new variations on reality programming.
such as Temptation Island and Who Wants to Marry
a Millionaire were created to compete with Survivors rating
victories. Like Barris Dating Game, these contemporary
dating shows focus on the unpredictable nature of peoples
personal relationships. However, they differ in that todays
shows have become less about dating and more about winning.
As one Joe Millionaire contestant stated, "This
isnt the typical dating scenario, there are feelings
of pride, rejection and competition." Clearly, contestants
are chosen with an eye toward making a combustible mix of personalities
that clash and cause drama. It seems each show has a do or
die competitor, a scandalous slut, a shy and quiet one and
of course the down-home good girl or boy everyone loves.
shows, such as, NBCs recent, "Meet My Folks," are
more about digging for dirt and creating sensational drama
out of everyday people mistakes. Eight girls are competing
for an all expense paid trip to Europe with Daniel, a 23-year-old
college student. The shows twist is that its not
Daniel the girls need to please, but Daniels parents
who ultimately choose the winner.
a nutshell the show places young people on dating trial and
embarrasses them on national TV. Hidden cameras reveal the
contestants private conversations and make-out sessions
with the sought-after date. Personal friends are interviewed
to reveal the contestants sexual histories and dirty
secrets, such as shop lifting, cheating or lying. A few are
even subjected to lie detector tests and viewers are left wondering
how any romance could come out of such a humiliating experience.
or not we like to admit it, these reality datingreality-dating
shows can be addictive. While many are formulaic, their participants
are unscripted ,unscripted, making the shows difficult to predict.
Still, its easy to formulate opinions about the participants
because theyre everyday people, and this, it must be
confessed, is part of the fun. Who will get the axe, how will
he react and who will win are the questions that keep people
watching through the commercials and tuning in for the next
these shows all have a formula and an individual style of execution,
they end up becoming Petri dishes, sociology experiments on
display for all to watch. It has become a sure-fire ratings
producer: Pit a few conflicting personalities together, throw
in the element of money and romance, add a twist and see what
the end, reality-dating shows are profiting off the awkwardness
of courtship. And lets face it, unscripted outcomes make
for enticing television no matter how trashy or sleazy it may
seem. Dating games may have devolved to the lowest common denominator,
but as long as viewers continue to push ratings through the
roof, reality-dating shows are here to stay,
for better or worse.