TV sex - will it be worth the wait?

Couples now go further than ever before on screen. Kathy Marks wonders whether the earth will move when the latest show appears
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The Independent Online
Why men and women get together and what they do in private is a subject of universal fascination. Television recognises the voyeuristic pleasure to be had in watching human relationships dissected on screen.

First came Mr and Mrs, the sedate 1970s quiz show in which married couples were tested about how well they knew each other. It was all very innocent. The most salacious question asked was what a contestant's spouse did first on getting out of bed in the morning.

In the 1980s, programmers realised that there was a richer seam to be mined. Forget whether couples knew the colour of each other's toothbrushes. How had they actually met in the first place? Even better, could a meeting be engineered on television? Thus was born Blind Date, the hugely successful show where, after a toe-curling series of questions, couples are paired off and dispatched on holiday together The show has grown more raunchy over the years, but it remains sufficiently wholesome to be broadcast early Saturday evenings.

Not so the latest offering from London Weekend Television, a late-night "youth" magazine programme featuring a segment in which viewers compete for a date with one of a cluster of people assembled in the Capital Radio restaurant, in central London. Among the prizes on offer for winning couples will be a night in a luxury London hotel.

The show, called Live at the Capital Cafe and presented by Dani Behr, has yet to be screened, but has whipped up a predictable storm of outrage. Mary Whitehouse emerged from her bunker to call it "cheap and tawdry". Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative MP, more creatively condemned it as a "pimping service".

London Weekend Television, which makes the programme, professes innocent surprise. A spokeswoman said it was "not about sex", pointing out that contestants might choose simply to take tea at the hotel.

The defence seems disingenuous, and possibly unnecessary. Given the recent diet of youth programmes laced heavily with sex - The Girlie Show and Eurotrash, for instance - Live at the Capital Cafe sounds positively tame.

It might also be seen as a natural evolution of the format, a more explicit version of Blind Date. When successfully matched Blind Date couples relate their exploits to Cilla Black, viewers are left in no doubt that certain physical activities have taken place, notwithstanding the separate hotel rooms.

Live at the Capital Cafe takes this one step further, bringing sex to the fore. But couples will not be filmed in their hotel rooms, nor will they return to talk about their nights of passion.

There have been other up-front dating shows, too. God's Gift, for instance, in which a line-up of muscular, bare-torsoed men have their physical attributes judged by a critical group of women - or men, in the case of the occasional gay version.

And for Mr and Mrs, read Carnal Knowledge, a no-holds-barred sex quiz banned from Yorkshire Television by Bruce Gyngell. What is not certain is whether viewer interest increases according to how little is left to the imagination. "There's a limit to how far you can go with these programmes," says Murray Boland, who produces God's Gift for Granada Television.

The secret of Blind Date's success, according to Mr Boland, is the mileage for viewers in gauging contestants' reactions to each other and how they got on. "The sex is the least interesting part of it," he says. "It's what goes on between the lines. It's reading their body language, it's people-watching."

Viewers will have to wait until Friday to satisfy their curiosity about Dani Behr's show. But it seems unlikely to break any records. After all, the idea that man meets woman and goes off to a hotel room with her is not exactly a revelation. It is the uncertainty, the anticipation and, above all, the post-mortem that make sexual encounters so fascinating in real life.