It has now been 20 years since the premiere of Singled Out, MTV's popular dating show featuring Chris Hardwick and Jenny McCarthy (then Chris Hardwick and Carmen Electra). Though, compared to 1995, it has never been easier to meet someone—at least technically speaking—dating will always be a messy art that makes everybody look like their dumbest selves. Which is why dating “reality” shows have continued to evolve and devolve through the years.
Though there have been many memorable dating shows, like current hits The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, far more romance-minded series have been left to die alone, never finding love with audiences. Here are 17 of the latter.
1. MATCHMAKER (1987-1988)
Popular Los Angeles DJ Dave Hull hosted the syndicated game show, and held most of the power. Without looking at them, Hull gradually eliminated three of the six contestants based on the answers to his questions. Then Hull would choose between the two men or women left for the “romantic lead” he had designated earlier. The new couple’s compatibility was then determined based on a list of likes and dislikes they listed before the show. The more their answers matched, the more expensive their grand prize of a trip would be.
2. STUDS (1991-1993)
Averaging three million viewers a night, Studs was a brief phenomenon when it was syndicated on Fox affiliates. Two male contestants went on one-on-one dates with each of the three female contestants before taping. On the show, each man would try to guess which female contestant said one of the three answers (almost always a double entendre) to host Mark DeCarlo’s questions about the date. In the end, if the men could guess which woman chose him as the “stud” over the other, they won another date. The sexually suggestive talk from the women was scripted, and some male contestants were upset that the show made it seem like sex was had on every date, when that wasn’t the case.
3. PERSONALS (1991-1992)
The host of this late night CBS dating show was Michael Berger, described as “part Pat Sajak, part Howard Stern.” Some of the contestants were people who had written personal ads in Los Angeles newspapers. Three men or women competed to best guess the answers the main contestant went with in the same dual-choice questions they were given. In the bonus round known as the “Love Thermometer,” the new couple would face off against the previous show’s couple to win a romantic trip.
4. NIGHT GAMES (1991-1992)
Night Games was the first of two CBS late-night companion shows to Personals hosted by comedian Jeff Marder. Three male and female contestants answered questions in “Honesty” and “Sensuality” rounds. It was considered a rip-off of the raunchy Studs before it was even screened by critics.
5. A PERFECT SCORE (1992)
A Perfect Score was the second of Marder's late-night shows. In this one (which replaced Night Games), three close friends of one contestant attempted to find their friend the ideal date by questioning three candidates. Despite the producers' promise that it wasn’t scripted, some of the 110 CBS affiliates that ran the show put it on at 2 a.m. or later, which was hardly an ideal timeslot. Unsurprisingly, A Perfect Score didn’t last.
6. STREET MATCH (1993)
Airing on ABC in the summer of 1993 after repeats of The Wonder Years, soap opera star Ricky Paull Goldin “made Chuck Woolery look like a class act” as he sought out men and women on the street and asked them to participate on the show. If they agreed, the contestant pointed out an attractive stranger on the street and Goldin would go to work on setting the two of them up. If the second stranger agreed, the two would go on a date, which would be shot and edited in the newly discovered MTV Real World Dutch angle, jump cut way.
7. BZZZ! (1996-1997)
Annie Wood hosted the show where two sets of contestants considered four possible dates. Three of the four dates got “bzzzed” if they gave a “wrong” answer to one of the contestants' questions. The two potential date groups then faced off in a “simpatico” round for a “dream date” package.
8. THE BLAME GAME (1998-2001)
“Judge” Chris Reed would listen to two former lovers and decide who was to blame for their break-up, with help from “counselors” Jason Winer (an executive producer on Modern Family and creator of 1600 Penn) and Kara Jane McNamara. The studio audience would determine who was the guilty party after each round. Final arguments featured the litigants karaokeing to contemporary hits (the show aired on MTV). The person voted not to be the one at fault won a vacation, while the loser had his or her picture added to the “Do Not Date This Blame Game Loser” section of the show’s website and/or, for a time, in a section of Entertainment Weekly, unless he or she made a convincing apology to the winner.
9. CHAINS OF LOVE (2001)
This Madison Michelle-hosted show that made “Temptation Island look like Washington Week in Review" lasted just six episodes on UPN. Four men or women were chained to one member of the opposite sex, and each day one of the suitors would be released and given whatever amount of the $10,000 the star of the episode decided to hand over. After four days, the star could decide to split the leftover money with the contestant left standing and see him or her again, or pocket all the cash. If the previously chained contestant didn’t develop Stockholm Syndrome, he or she had the option of walking away with all of the cash.
10. RENDEZ-VIEW (2001-2002)
Co-hosted by Greg Proops and Ellen Ladowsky, this syndicated show featured two guests per episode—usually an actor and a comedian—who would watch a videotaped date along with the hosts and humorously critique them.
11. SHIPMATES (2001-2003)
Shipmates is the other Chris Hardwick-hosted dating show. Participants went on a blind date on a Carnival Cruise ship for three days. Hardwick claimed that he turned the show down six times before agreeing to host, under the condition that he be allowed to write his own material.
12. THE 5TH WHEEL (2001-2004)
Aisha Tyler hosted the first season of the syndicated series before leaving to take more movie offers, and to guest star on Friends in its final two seasons. On the show, two men and two women went on a group date before a fifth man or woman would entertainingly complicate matters.
13. TAILDATERS (2002-2003)
The MTV show had the best friends of two daters follow the date from a van, providing commentary and at times “paging” advice to their buds.
14. MR. PERSONALITY (2003)
Running for five episodes in 2003 on Fox, host Monica Lewinsky helped contestant Hayley Arp find love with one of 20 suitors, all of whom wore masks the entire time. The one allowed exception was in the “Dark Room,” where Arp was able to touch a contestant’s face.
15. MARRIED BY AMERICA (2003)
Hosted by Los Angeles DJ Sean Valentine, Married By America was a six-episode series, also on Fox in 2003. Five single people agreed to get engaged to total strangers chosen by the viewing audience. Gradually relationship experts eliminated three of the couples, and the two “winning” couples decided to not get married after all. Fox’s Raleigh-Durham affiliate refused to air the series after its premiere, stating that it “demeans and exploits the institution of marriage.”
16. THE LITTLEST GROOM (2004)
In two episodes that ran on Fox in 2004, a 4’5” bachelor chose between a group of women of similar height, before the twist of adding 12 “average” sized female contestants to the contest really shook things up (“an average sized twist,” the voiceover intoned). Salesman Glen Foster chose 4’3” Mina Winkler, and said he didn’t feel exploited.
17. SCORE (2005)
In a four-week run, singer-songwriter Ashlee Simpson ex Ryan Cabrera hosted Score on MTV. Cabrera’s band and guest stars mentored two contestants and helped them each write a song to win the heart of a “hottie.” The winner was whomever said hottie decided wrote and performed the better song.