TELEVISION / Long Runners: No 17: Blind Date

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The Independent Culture
Age: eight. Started November 1985.

Frequency: once a week for an hour, including ads. One series a year, of varying length. This year's is 18 weeks.

Who's responsible? LWT.

Audience: peaked at 18m in 1986. At the moment, about 11.5m. Not bad for a show that shares a time, and an artistic level, with Noel's House Party (12m).

Participants: young people, but there is also an occasional, even more embarrassing 'Golden Oldies' version.

Formula: hosted by Cilla Black, it's a show of two halves. First, the picker chooses his or her blind date from three contenders of the opposite sex - 'pickees' in Blind Date-speak - who are concealed from him or her by a screen. Pickers make their choice by listening to pickees' answers to three identical, sexually charged and wholly unrevealing questions. Rejected pickees parade in front of the picker before the screen dramatically rolls backs and the lucky couple are united. After over-enthusiastic hugs and kisses, one of them picks a card giving the details of their date. In the second part, last week's couple then return. We see the highlights of their date, followed by a replay of their individual confessions to the cameraman - a part known to the production team by the cutesy (and apparently meaningless) name 'bish-bash'. Then comes Cilla's inevitable question: 'Well, are you going to see each other again?'

And what's the answer? Nearly always 'No'. One of Blind Date's hallmarks is its blatant inability to matchmake successfully, as the actual date is set up for the benefit of the show, rather than budding romance. A camera follows the couple everywhere, and one couple had to have their 'final dinner' in the middle of the afternoon to fit in with the filming schedule. Perhaps as a result, there has only been one Blind Date wedding, although a second, of two 70-year-olds, was due to take place yesterday (and to be broadcast on Sat).

Ancestry: the programme began life as Australia's Perfect Match and The Love Connection in the US. LWT bought the British rights from Talbot Television in 1984. Versions now exist in most European countries.

Rival: Love at First Sight, on Sky (a satellite subscription channel).

How do they find the contestants? Researchers tour the country, putting up posters that invite you to pick up an application form from a local venue. Anyone and everyone who returns the form (with a photo) will be interviewed by the team, before the producer makes his final choice.

So why are there never any ugly contestants (broadly speaking)? According to the producer, only 'extrovert people who are pretty vain' are likely to apply.

Most tasteless moment: Junior Blind Date, a Christmas special edition in 1992, which came under fire for sexualising children.

Distinguishing feature: although sex is in the air, the programme stays safely above the belt, with plenty of innuendo but no sleaze. This is why LWT chose Cilla Black, the ultimate anti-sex symbol, to present it (a pilot edition hosted by the comedian Duncan Norvelle did not get past the IBA because of its obviously sexual content). Participants are told to avoid being overt - Zeno Nicolaou, a contestant from east London, recalls being told off for wanting to mention 'odd-shaped balls'.

Does this stop the tabloids filling their pages with 'My Blind Date three-in-a-bed romp'-style stories? It does not.

Secret of its success: the audience is held in double suspense: whom will the picker choose, and did last week's pair hit it off, or are they going to rip each other apart in front of 11m people? Prediction and disappointment are all part of the fun ('I know he would have been better off with Claire from Hertfordshire'). So are the painful dialogue (see below) and some participants' deliberately bizarre get-ups.

Anything that makes you want to kick the set in? The pickees' corny answers. Are they scripted or are they scripted? Example - Q: 'What kind of flower do you see yourself as?' A: 'A snap-dragon. I could snap you up and I'm full of fire.' As well as being unfunny, they make the pickees less individual.

The bottom line: is it any good? No, but we watch it anyway. The voyeurism of the 'bish-bash' keeps you glued. But the unashamed showing-off of the pickees, along with the ludicrous lines they're given, means that laughs are pretty shallow and soon become strained. Sophie Barker

(Photograph omitted)