Fox is hoping Andy Cohen will make a ‘Love Connection’ with viewers in reboot of vintage dating series
Host Andy Cohen, center, talks with producers off stage during the filming of “Love Connection,” the new reboot of the classic dating series by Fox.(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
Host Andy Cohen and contestant Cary Gunnar Lee react to a date during the filming of “Love Connection.”(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
Host Andy Cohen and contestant Cary Gunnar Lee interview his date Sasha Grumman, rating her a “10,” on “Love Connection.” The dating series reboot features contestants looking for love while going on three dates with a possible $10,000 prize.(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
Date Lindsay Jones reacts on-screen during the filming of “Love Connection.”(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
Host Andy Cohen and contestant Cary Gunnar Lee interview his date Sasha Grumman during filming of the “Love Connection” reboot.(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
Sasha Grumman takes the stage during the filming of “Love Connection.”(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
Contestant Cary Gunnar Lee and his date Sasha Grumman rejoice after winning $10,000 during on “Love Connection.”(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
Host Andy Cohen, contestant Cary Gunnar Lee and his date Sasha Grumman react to winning $10,000 after the audience pick matched with the contestant’s romantic choice on “Love Connection.”(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
Host Andy Cohen peeks out as a bridge is lowered for his entrance on “Love Connection.”(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
Andy Cohen makes for an enthused host on the Fox reboot “Love Connection.”(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
“Next there’s Tony. He likes to rent movies, buy junk food and stay up all night. Says that people always tell him he looks like John Davidson. And he claims he has trouble reading the signals women send out.”
Before singles were penning obnoxiously ironic and exceedingly clever bios for their Tinder profiles, Chuck Woolery was summarizing dating hopefuls in a couple of sentences for a national TV audience on the syndicated matchmaking game show “Love Connection.”
From 1983 through 1994 — and during a brief revival in the late ’90s — thousands appeared on the show to get fixed up under the now-comical auspices that it was the place where “old-fashioned romance meets modern technology,” as the show’s introduction stated.
And like an ex who slides into your DMs, it’s back.
A reboot of the classic dating game show is coming Thursday to Fox. And Andy Cohen, the pop culture-obsessed Bravo dignitary who is best known as the “Real Housewives” reunion wrangler and nightly talk show host, is the new cupid proxy.
The 15-episode rollout arrives at a time when retro game shows (“Match Game,” “The Gong Show,” “$100,000 Pyramid”) are coming out of retirement, much like many of their scripted series counterparts. The move by studios and networks to dig into their vaults is an attempt to lure back older TV viewers and reach a new generation — however hopeless the pursuit — as shifting viewing habits and the influx of programming options continue to vex the industry.
“Dating has become a bit of a forgotten art,” says Rob Wade, the head of alternative programming at Fox. “This, in a way, is teaching some of the younger people watching what it used to be like. You didn’t spend your nights swiping right, you actually had to go out there and spend a few evenings with a few different people and find out the wrinkles.”
To be sure, the bygone rituals of courtship also rarely included television cameras. But there’s no denying the digital age has redefined the quest for romance — swiping through online dating profiles and texting opening lines is a passive effort that can be done in the same time it takes to cue up Netflix or place a filter on an Instagram photo (and it’s highly likely it’s happening in between doing all those things.)
“Love Connection,” though, thrives on human connection, not a WiFi connection.
A reboot of the classic game show had been shopped around for some time. The current iteration, a co-production between original producers Telepictures Productions and Warner Horizon Television, has one of the biggest names in TV’s reality dating universe behind it: Mike Fleiss, the creator of ABC’s hit dating competition, “The Bachelor.” The show’s other executive producers are Martin Hilton (“The Bachelor”), James Breen (“So You Think You Can Dance”) and Jason Ehrlich (“The Bachelor”).
“I always had a soft spot for that show,” says Fleiss, who had become friends with the show’s late creator Eric Lieber and credits “Love Connection” with planting the seed for him to venture into the romance TV space.
“I remember it being simple and effective,” he adds. “And I remember wanting to find out what happened on those dates, the he said-she said of it all. It was intriguing.”
I remember [“Love Connection”] being simple and effective. And I remember wanting to find out what happened on those dates, the he said-she said of it all.
The producers all credit Cohen, who had wanted to resurrect the show years ago when he was in charge of programming at Bravo, for his knack at getting the dirt — after all, he’s the kind of guy who asks guests on his late-night show which celebrity aroused him or her in youth.
“He has a great ease with people,” says Mike Darnell, the president of unscripted and alternative programming at Warner Bros. “People feel safe with him. They open up and they feel like he’s not judging them.”
But Cohen is under contract with NBCUniversal and, thus, had to go up the ladder to get the OK to do the show.
“I jumped at the chance to do the show,” says Cohen, whose New York-based late-night Bravo show, “Watch What Happens Live,” is filming a week of shows in Los Angeles in the lead-up to the game show’s premiere.
“I just remember laughing and being amazed by the people that went on these dates,” he says.”The headline is: It still totally works. Hearing about first dates, it’s as interesting today as it ever was.”
It’s playing out on a recent day of taping on the show’s set — which can only be described as a love spaceship, with its neon lights and black backdrop — at the CBS Television City lot in Los Angeles.
Cary Gunnar Lee, a 28-year-old graphic designer from Culver City, is seated next to Cohen and listening as one of his dates, Lindsey Jones, ridicules their time together. (Note: Lee actually looks 28 — unlike his counterparts from the ’80s who, looking back, appear older than their stated age.)
“We sat down for sushi. … He didn’t really have any input on what to order,” an annoyed Jones says via a jumbo screen overlooking the stage. “I kind of ordered everything and took the lead.”
“Do you like it when the guy takes the lead on the date?” Cohen asks.
“A little bit,” Jones responds. “At least maybe something. Maybe a little California roll, at the minimum.”
As her snarky critique of the date continues, the audience grows animated, booing and laughing.
Hearing about first dates, it’s as interesting today as it ever was.
“The charm of the show is the reporting back,” Darnell says. “When you go on a date, you come home and tell you’re friends: ‘He’s an idiot, I don’t like the way he dressed or he didn’t pay for dinner.’ That’s what makes the show work: the different points of view of the same date.”
But while the show retains much of its simple format, not to mention its retro logo, it has undergone some tweaks beyond a production look that borrows more from “American Idol” or “The Voice” than the quaint feel of the original.
The series is more inclusive — featuring same-sex couples — and the hour-long episodes are now self-contained.
Instead of contestants picking one person, they go out with the three choices. The dates, like the original, are off camera — with the exception of self-shot videos that are done at different points in the date to give insight as to how it’s going.
Also newly introduced: a rating system in which the contestants rate each other (on a scale from 1 to 10) before and after the date. Audience members vote on their picks for an overnight date — the twist being if they choose the same date as the selector, the latter gets $10,000. If the audience picks someone else, the selector can either stick with the person he or she has selected or go with the audience pick and get the $10,000.
“In a day and age where people are ghosting each other, never saying what about the other person made them go silent, this show puts it all on the table,” Ehrlich said. “You find out if you have terrible breath, if you have bad manners. And sometimes it can be really simple, fixable things that probably would have been a mystery to them in today’s dating world.”
The true test is whether the reboot will result in actual love connections. The original produced upward of 25 marriages and more than a dozen babies.
Hoping to bring the happily ever after full circle — at least in theory — one such child of a couple that appeared in a 1991 episode, is now looking for love and will appear on the reboot.
Will “Love Connection” be two for two?
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)
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