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F.Birchman / MSNBC.com
msnbc.com contributor
updated 3/8/2004 9:02:21 AM ET 2004-03-08T14:02:21

Most television series are less an act of creating, but an act of mating.  Shows both good and bad have been born from the genetic mix of two  or more- pre-existing shows — not being organic species, TV shows can have an unlimited number of parents. 

Almost every sitcom can trace part of its DNA back to “I Love Lucy”, “Dick Van Dyke” or “Gilligan’s Island” (although the “Mister Ed” bloodline has almost completely died out).  And the most interesting thing about dating/relationship shows is how much genetic material came from such unrelated sources.  Love match, shotgun wedding or Dr. Moreau-type experiment?  You decide.

The Grandmother of Them All: The Dating Game
Like the Genesis story of an ancient pagan religion, “The Dating Game” sprang fully grown from the head of Chuck Barris (as did “The Newlywed Game” and his so-called autobiography, although the format of “The Gong Show” was stolen from “The Original Amateur Hour” by way of an L.A. disc jockey).

In its early years, “The Dating Game” was seen as dangerously unique, from the risqué questions written for the bachelorette to the curved walls decorated with day-glo flowers, to the whole concept of the show’s “prize” (to be tactfully referred to here as the datee) selecting her own winner from among the contestants (referred here as the daters). This is one of the few traits that has been handed down to nearly all of “The Dating Game’s” descendants.

“The Dating Game” + talk show” + Goodson-Todman game show = “Love Connection”
”Love Connection” took the basic dating competition format and added gimmicks already used on more conventional game shows: the audience voting devices, the disembodied heads on TV monitors, and Chuck Woolery.  But the show’s most popular element was the long-couch conversation about “how the date went”, inherited from the talk shows of the era, which also may explain why Mike Douglas’ set evolved into something resembling “Dating Game”’s (remember the flower-like asterisks?).

“Love Connection” + “Cops” + “Pop-Up Video” = “Blind Date”
Once the utility of compact mobile cameras was proven by the reality show that followed policeman around, the next obvious step was following couples on their dates, making the post-date interview extinct.  And just like savvy viewers of “Cops” ask themselves “Why would anybody sign a release to show themselves getting arrested?”, “Blind Date” raised the question “Why would anybody sign a release to show themselves on that date?”  

For good measure, “Blind Date” added the on-screen snarky commentary from VH-1’s music video  deconstruction show, and dating shows got their first genetic connection to Cable. In turn, “Blind Date” was father to a Brady Bunch-sized brood of daily half-hour shows.

“Blind Date” + “The $64,000 Question” = “EXtreme Dating”
”EXtreme” is one of the most significant of “Blind Date”’s offspring because like the contestants in the infamous quiz show scandal of the ‘50s, the “datee” is being coached, but in this case by an ex- of the “dator”, which certainly does bring into doubt the quality of the information.

“The Bachelor/Bachelorette” + “Punk’d” = “Joe Millionaire” and “Average Joe”
For the most part, the evolution of prank shows has followed a straight line from “Candid Camera” to “Dick Clark’s Practical Jokes” to “Punk’d”. 

But then other reality shows started adding the euphemistically called “twists”, and matchmaking shows followed suit, replacing much of the romantic atmosphere with one of humiliation.  This is also the first bloodline to show signs of genetic degradation when the producers tried to pull the same prank a second time.
”The Bachelor/Bachelorette” + “American Idol” = “Cupid”
There’s no DNA test required here, with “Idol” stalwart Simon Cowell credited for creating this show, which eliminated daters from a large group, first by a panel of snarky judges (friends of the datee), and then by popular vote. Maybe Ruben and Clay would have a shot at “Cupid 2”.
”The Dating Game” + “Iron Chef” = “Date Plate”
The development of dating shows took another strange turn when specialized cable channels started breeding shows for their own use. HGTV has “Date by Design”, describing itself as “the only blind date where people decorate”. The Travel Channel has “Get Packing” where dators pack a suitcase for the datee, who picks one to join her/him on a trip to a romantic resort.

But Food Network, which already had one of its biggest hits in the competitive cooking show “Iron Chef” (and less successful variations “Ready Set Cook” and “Food Fight”), as two “daters” (with time and budget limits) try to impress the “datee” solely with the meals they cook.  Still, there is something strange about the “datee” eating two entrees and two deserts, then picking a winner to take  — on a dinner date. Maybe the producers should throw in a gym membership.
”Blind Date” + “Surreal Life” = “Star Dates”
The genes of the oxymoronic celebrity reality sub-genre are mixed in for this E! channel show, sending C-list celebrities (usually comedians) on camera-covered dates with the kind of people who could only get on TV via a reality show. A low-budget production, the show’s host also drives the SUV ‘limo’ (with a back seat large enough for the comedian to do much physical ‘humor’).
The Next Generation?
Since every dating/matchmaking show since Barris has obvious traits inherited from other TV genres (“The Bachelor” + “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” = “Who Wants to Marry My Dad”), we can only anticipate the possibilities of future shows.

A C-SPAN dating show where the “daters” are one Republican, one Democrat an one Independent?  A Golf Network dating show where the lowest score wins?

In a 500-channel universe, the possibilities are endless.

Wendell Wittler is the online alias of a freelance writer from Southern California.

© 2013 msnbc.com.  Reprints


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