Secrets of dating shows revealed

Dating shows may be easy to make but romance shows seeking long-lasting outcomes take a lot longer -and beware network promos, say producers.

Producers from dating and romance shows including First Dates, Bride & Prejudice, Love on the Spectrum, and Better Date than Never  yesterday revealed some trade secrets at the Australian International Documentary Conference in Melbourne.

Deb Spinocchia, Head of Unscripted at BBC Studios and Jenni Wilks from Northern Pictures emphasised the difference between documentaries seeking genuine outcomes, versus reality shows driven by gameplay or the rules of attraction.

“If you’re making something like First Dates, it’s really easy to cast. You sit there with hundreds of faces on a wall and you have conversations about ‘Do they look like they’re a right fit for each other? Do you see them dating?'” said Deb Spinocchia.

“The odds aren’t high on First Dates”

“If your ultimate goal is just to date, that’s an easy show to make. Because you’re not asking for too much. In fact, a show like that you don’t leave it sitting on the shelf very long, because you won’t have a success story. The odds aren’t high on First Dates, so the longer it sits on the shelf, the less chances you have of having a genuine statement at the back end that says ‘These two have gotten married and lived happily ever after.'”

“If you’re playing for true love, know that it’s a very long game.”

Spinocchia (First Dates, Back with the Ex, Beauty & the Geek) is currently producing The Matchmakers for SBS in which looks at the private world of old traditions, religion, family values and culture through matchmaking.

“If you’re playing for true love, know that it’s a very long game. So even with The Matchmakers, what we’re doing at the moment is not a fast production. It’s working very, very slowly. But what we’re hoping for is outcomes that are genuine and life-lasting. But that’s not easy to make.”

There was also a question around whether participants in dating shows would be shown the finished episodes before broadcast.

“We sit down with them and watch it”

Jenni Wilks from Northern Pictures (Love on the Spectrum, Better Date than Never) believes it is important to include participants.

“We make sure 100% that anyone that we want to do any publicity (with) or anything like that, that we sit down with them and watch it…so we can answer questions,” she said.

“Recently I was with Charles from Better Date Than Never and we showed him his episode. It’s just so lovely because in a way he was so proud, but like all of us, hates seeing (himself) on screen as well. So just to be there with him was this mixture of excitement and fear. But we were there as a team doing it together and that was lovely.”

However Spinocchia observed that screenings also depend on the broadcaster involved.

“If you’re making something on a commercial network like First Dates, you would never do that. In fact, the big problem you usually have is never with the content, it’s always with the promos. Most people are quite delighted when they see the finished product but the promos are sensational, they look exploitative, everyone feels as though they’ve been edited in a bad way,” she warned.

“The biggest challenge we face is when the promos start dropping, generally speaking.”


“I did have problems with Bride and Prejudice with the promos, when that show launched,” she recalled.

“You need to brief people on the promos as well.”

“One of the couples were a lesbian couple, their father was a parishioner of a local church. But the promos were just so sensational and the second they went to air there was a very angry phone call. So you’ve really got to put in the overtime, go around and see them and make sure they are across everything. I guess my lesson there was you need to brief people on the promos as well.”

Despite any sensationalism and commercial aspects, Spinocchia believes the magic ingredient for a successful show in the genre is storytelling based on Hope.

“Even Married at First Sight still plays for love. The initial outset is that everyone goes out, they go to work, to make their lives better. They want to do that for themselves and their family, usually, which is all based on love. So I think for broad appeal, Hope is absolutely essential.

“I think for broad appeal, hope is absolutely essential.”

“Otherwise, if you’re doing something like Love Island, where it’s a gameplay, then it’s a niche market. It won’t be broad but you will get a really good clickbait audience.

“If you want something to resonate, particularly as a doco you really should play for Hope.”

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