When true love strikes, how much does the physical appearance of your beloved matter? ABC is taking the dating reality show genre into a new space � a very dark space � with "Dating In The Dark." In this series, which premieres tonight, three men and three women are paired up only in a pitch-black room where they can talk and touch but they cannot see a hand in front of their faces. When the lights are brought up, will the couples want to stay together? Executive Producer Tom Shelly talked to our Jim Halterman about the age-old question "Is love blind?"
Jim Halterman: Where did the idea of a dating show in the dark come from?
Tom Shelly: The idea was actually a Dutch show created by John de Mol, who created Endemol, so it was his idea that we at Endemol make an American version for ABC.
JH: How do you approach picking contestants? Was physical appearance a factor since they are going to be in the dark for a big chunk of the show?
TS: They fill out a very lengthy application of what they're looking for in love and we just go through a long process of interviewing people and trying to pick not only who will be great characters on the show but people who are really, honestly, looking for love. Maybe they've tried online dating or maybe they've tried other methods of dating like blind dates or that kind of thing. These are people who are really trying to find somebody. We're not just looking for participants. We're looking for people who really want a relationship and that gave us a mixed bag of some really good-looking people and some what I would call ordinary, real people that I think the audience will be able to identify with.
JH: There's no cash prize or vacation for the couples that wind up staying together at the end of each episode. What is the grand prize?
TS: It's love. We wanted to find people who were in it to really try to find a partner and as soon as you throw money into it, people are playing for money instead of really trying to find a partner. We really wanted to see the answer to that age-old question "Is love blind?" The only way to really do that is to find people who really are looking for love and without the intention on money.
JH: The contestants in the first episode were all very nice people but will we see more abrasive personalities that are such a staple in reality shows?
TS: The answer to that is yes. You will see some of that. You'll see a real mixed bag of characters in the rest of the series. What I think is great about the series is that you never know how it's going to end. Everybody's idea of the answer to that question "Do looks matter?" is different so it was fun shooting the show because we never knew how it was going to end and I don't think the audience will ever know how it's going to end. You get to that last moment up on the balcony to see if the partners that have been revealed in the light are both going to show up or is somebody going to be left behind. That's what I find intriguing about the show and I think the audience is going to find intriguing also.
JH: It was painful to watch when one person is left on the balcony and watches the other person walk away and not continue dating.
TS: You know it's kind of like life. It happens on dates where the guy doesn't call or the girl doesn't call back but, also, the good thing about the show is that I think it's full of a wide range of emotions. You've got comedy, drama, suspense, you've got some tearful moments as well as some emotional moments so it covers the wide range of the emotional spectrum.
JH: Assuming the show is a hit, will we ever see what happens next beyond the show when two people do come together at the end?
TS: Yeah, we're discussing that. We're not sure yet. We'll put the show out there and hopefully people will tune in which I think they will and we're discussing that now, actually.
JH: Will you be mixing in some older people or different kinds of contestants?
TS: We kind of went for mid-20s to mid-30s range this round and if the show continues I'm sure we'll be ending up with new and different ways to add surprises and change it up and keep it interesting. You know, it's always that fine line. You want to keep the show the same because if the audience likes it you want to give them what they want but you also want to give some surprises and changes. I'm sure if it goes again we'll absolutely come up with new ideas.
JH: How would you do if you had to be one of the contestants in the dark?
TS: Oh my gosh! I don't know. I can tell you I really don't know. I'm married so I really don't know and I don't put myself in this place. I can tell you this but it's a little tangent but I can tell you that that dark room is so dark that the experience of being in there alone is a very unique experience. Imagine you go to the darkest closet in your house, it's in the middle of the night, you turn off all the lights, you close the door to the closet, you put on a blindfold and you close your eyes. That's getting close to how dark it is in that room. What's amazing is the technology that we have with the infrared cameras. You, as an audience, can see everything literally but they really, honestly cannot see the hand in front of their face and their eyes never adjust so it's a very, very unusual experience for them. But, for the audience, it's really intriguing in terms of the technology that allows us to see what's going on. Honestly, I don't know what I would do in the dark. I don't know how I would do because until you're in that situation I think you really don't know how you are going to react which is one thing that I think is true with any good reality show or any show in general. If you put real people in the right situation that is something they haven't experienced before it becomes completely unpredictable and I don't think even they know how they're going to act.
JH: Why are these dating shows so popular with audiences?
TS: I think that love is universal. It's a very, very primal, very human experience that all of us have. It's very strong in the sense that we all identify with it. It's one of those very basic human emotions and conditions that spur a lot of conversation, a lot of feelings, a lot of emotions and, let's face it, that's one of the things we're on the planet for is to find a partner. I think that it hits right at the heart of something everyone can identify with.
"Dating in the Dark" premieres tonight on ABC at 10:00/9:00c.