Fast Forwarding in Search of Romance : Videos: Stores say business is picking up for a new line of rental tapes that feature pitches from singles in L.A. and Ventura counties.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On any Friday or Saturday night you can spot them: the singles who comb through video stores looking for love and excitement.

Some of them can find it, if no one else has checked out the cassette of their dreams. For a couple of bucks, there's Rhett and Scarlett, Hamlet and Ophelia, Tango and Cash or Turner and Hooch.

But hold onto your rental cards, because now there's an even greater selection of faces for the young and the dateless.

A few weeks ago, a handful of San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles video stores also began carrying the likes of Greg and Sally, Bill and Barbara, Joe and Judy, and Bob and Kathy.

"We're calling them video personals," said Allen Nadoh, a Sherman Oaks ex-movie producer who came up with what some say is the latest twist in video dating.

"There are 3.5 million single people around L.A., and it's not that healthy of a scene," he added. "What we wanted to do was tap into the huge number of video-renting people who are also looking for someone special."

The result of that idea is "Video Match," a videotape that contains the 90-second pitches of 75 single men and women from Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The tapes, which landed on the new-releases shelf of Odyssey Video in North Hollywood three weeks ago, rent for the cost of an ordinary video.

"We haven't promoted it, but we've gotten a ton of calls from people about it," said assistant store manager Pat Peppermuller. "Three weeks before the tapes even got here, we were swamped with calls. I guess there had been some advertising about it, and for a while it was pure pandemonium around here."

At 20/20 Video in Studio City, the tapes also have found a niche. This, said sales clerk Rodney Shoham, is despite their having been placed in a somewhat unlikely location.

"We got it last week and put it in the documentary section," said sales clerk Rodney Shoham. "But it's not getting lost there. Quite a few people have come in and asked about it."

Like personal ads in magazines or newspapers, Video Match uses no names or identifying cities on the tapes. Instead, each person on the video has an identification number at the bottom of the screen. Interested viewers can call a 900 number (for $2 a minute) and leave a message for the person.

Nadoh said the first 150 men and women who showed up at Video Match's North Hollywood and West Los Angeles studios had responded to a newspaper ad and appeared on the introductory tapes free of charge. The cost has now gone up to $50 for three months of video-viewing exposure. After that time, he said, a new batch of singles will go on the shelves.

"All of the other video services have high membership fees, and this is just a small taping fee," said Nadoh, who asks a few standard questions--such as the person's best date, dream vacation and qualities wanted in a mate--of each person who appears on Video Match.

Nadoh said he hopes to get a wider selection of video stores to carry the tapes and is negotiating with several chains in the Valley and Los Angeles. His goal, however, is to reach a specific audience.

"In the Valley, we're primarily aiming this at middle-income demographic areas--Burbank, Glendale and west to Woodland Hills and Encino. But we also have people on the tapes from Oxnard and Ventura," he said.

And the response? Several people who appeared on the first tape said they are pleasantly surprised.

"I've been getting 10 calls a day, and so far I haven't met one loser," said Lori Allison Meyers, 24, of Beverly Hills. "One guy took me out to a chichi restaurant and popped $200 at dinner. He was wealthy, had a manicure, a nice haircut and was gorgeous."

The problem?

"He didn't want to have kids," she said. "That disqualified him. I passed him onto one of my girlfriends."

And what about the other guys who responded?

"Some of them are just GUs--geographically undesirables," she said. "The tapes are going all over the place, but I don't want to have to drive more than 20 minutes."

That doesn't, however, rule out any interested guy from the Valley.

"Just tell them I can be there in 10 minutes," Meyers said. "I'm a fast driver."

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