A history of reality television (part five): I take this millionaire bachelor to be my geeky newlywed date - VIDEOS
For some, watching relationship-based reality programming is not their idea of a pleasant night in. Why should they watch shows about finding and keeping love when it takes so long to find that right person in real life? Yet, since the mid-'60s, viewers have turned-in to watch others search for their soul mate. Or, at least their soul mate of the hour.
Of course, in the time of the Reality Revolution, the way love was found on television changed a bit. Rather than asking a simple set of questions to a set of bachelors or bachelorettes sitting behind a wall, men and women would compete for the love of a well-to-do bachelor or bachelorette, or a rapper/model, or a washed up 80s hair band star. They would even compete to see if their love could withstand an onslaught of temptation.
Sometimes they would find their one true love on these reality show. Other times they would be tossed away, their hearts broken, like a piece of paper. Along the way they would be love, sex, fights, sex, heartfelt moments, and sex. With reality programming being what it is, the viewers ate it all up.
The birth of the reality dating program can be traced back to two influential game shows of the mid '60s: The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. Both produced by game show pioneer Chuck Barris, these two games spanned the relationship cycle. On The Dating Game, one bachelor or bachelorette would ask a series of questions to three potential dating candidates in order to properly gage who the right match for them would be. on The Newlywed Game, the questions changed in scope from getting to know your date to how well you knew your spouse.
Being Chuck Barris game shows, these two programs didn't shy away from the more risque material...even during the 60s. This was more prevalent on Newlywed Game, where some of the answers were downright dirty. Even moreso than on shows like Match Game. If anything, Newlywed Game was the precursor for many relationship programs today as it really showed the honest reactions to some of the answers given by the spouses. Plus, it opened up the shows of today to all of bleeped-out language flying between the competitors.
There were other dating/relationship game shows that appeared after Dating and Newlywed. These included another Chuck Barris production called Three's A Crowd, MTVs Singled Out, the long running, Chuck Woolery-hosted Love Connection, and the popular 90's show Studs. Even though the risqueness of each program varied, most of these programs followed the concepts introduced by the older Chuck Barris programs. It wasn't until the very late 90s that these shows began to move away from game show to morph into something more realistic.
The first show to do this was the syndicated program Blind Date. Taking the concept of The Dating Game one step further, Blind Date would pair two strangers together for a date. The cameras would then follow the couple on their first date and record both the good and bad. The show was a bit tongue-in-cheek, as Pop-Up Video type notations would appear during the date pointing out some type of nice romantic gesture or gratuitous, unsolicited skin contact between the two. Sometimes the dates led to long-term romance. Other times they were downright embarrassing or considered 'Dates From Hell'. Those, of course, were more entertaining to the viewers than the ones that went off without a hitch.
One year later, FOX dipped their feet into the relationship reality pool with a two-hour special Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?, which was more in the style of a beauty pageant than an actual game show. Hosted by comedian Jay Thomas, 50 women competed for the chance to marry one Rick Rockwell, who was an alleged multi-millionaire estate investor, right at the end of the show. The program was the focus of much attention, but not because of its concept. Shortly after the show aired Rockwell's wife, Darva Conger, filed for an annulment after finding out that her husband, as well as FOX, misrepresented the facts. Particularly the one about him being a multi-millionaire. Then, there were the numerous restraining orders from other girlfriends.
Needless to say, FOX never aired another installment of Marry a Multi-Millionaire again. Instead, a year later, the network brought the first relationship/game opera to American shores in the guise of Temptation Island. As the name of the show stated, members of dating couples were actually tempted to stray away from their companions and fall into the arms of a group of singles of the opposite sex living on the island with them. The show was a ratings success in the first season, but fell off tremendously during the second installment. Eventually, Temptation Island ended up on FOX's Reality channel.
A year later, ABC decided to jump into the dating world with The Bachelor. Another relationship/game opera hybrid, Bachelor revolved around one man being wooed by 25 women for a chance to become his wife. Each episode would feature the Bachelor on a series of dates with these women. At the end of each episode one or two women would be eliminated from the competition during the Rose Ceremony. In the end, two women would be left for the Bachelor to select. Sometimes, the Bachelor would ask his final choice for her hand in marriage. Other times, such as two seasons ago, the Bachelor didn't choose either of the remaining candidates.
The Bachelor was such a success when it premiered in 2002 that it quickly spun-off another series: The Bachelorette. Featuring Trista Rehn, the runner-up date during the first season of Bachelor, Bachelorette featured 25 men vying for her hand in marriage. The big difference between this show and The Bachelor was the selection of the Bachelorettes. In the first four seasons of the show, before it ended in 2005, the Bachelorettes were normally the runners-up from The Bachelor. The same can be said for this upcoming season, which will feature the runner-up from the last season of its parent show.
Both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette eventually became the standard for other relationship game operas that came upon the television scene. In NBC's Average Joe, a dozen-plus average guys tried to win the heart of a beauty queen. In FOX's Joe Millionaire, a millionaire bachelor, who wasn't a millionaire after all, dated a series of women to find the right one who would love him for the person he was and not for his money. On the WB's (later CW) Beauty and the Geek, a team of "Beauties" and a team of "Geeks" were paired up in a bit of a social experiment that let both sides learn a bit more about each other.
Soon, "regular" people weren't the only ones looking for love in front of the camera. In 2006, rapper Flavor Flav decided to take a stab at the romantic life on the VH1 series Flavor of Love. In this show 20 women challenged each other to win the heart of the clock-wearing Flav. Each woman would receive a nickname that they would be called by until eliminated during the Clock Ceremony. The show was a success for VH1's Celebreality lineup and even produced two spin-off series. One of them was I Love New York, which featured one of the competitors eliminated during Flavor of Love.
A year later rocker Bret Michaels joined the reality dating fray with the series Rock of Love. Also airing on VH1, the show featured the Poison front man and nearly two dozen women who wanted his heart, among other things. This series recently completed its second season. Over on MTV another performer, Tila Tequila, had a relationship game opera created around her search for a mate. The difference between A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila and other dating programs that preceded hers was that Tila was looking for either a male or female partner.
While it seems like "dating reality" programs dominate the television schedule, they are actually a minority genre in the Reality Revolution. Yet, many of them have a strong following with emotional fans who are either for the bachelor/bachelorette or those that are trying to win their hearts. Unfortunately, many of these shows tend to follow the format of The Bachelor, which could mean an early end for them unless the format is tweaked even further.