Originally created 03/05/02

Show puts blind dates in the spotlight



LOS ANGELES - At their wedding-rehearsal dinner this month, Brad Gilbert and Wendy Czaikoski won't need to tell the story of how they met. They can just pop in a videotape.

There, in excruciating detail, is the beginning of their courtship, seen on the nationally televised show Blind Date (11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8:30 a.m. Friday, WBEK-TV, Channel 16).

Ms. Czaikoski's relatives might blanch when she talks about her sex drive, or wonder if Mr. Gilbert ever shuts up. Yet as Blind Date couples go, they were demure; the hot tub stayed empty.

The show's first engagement, Mr. Gilbert and Ms. Czaikoski qualify as its most successful coupling.

Producers have other measurements of success, though.

In its third year, the racy relationship show is a hit, particularly among young people. The show has been spoofed by Saturday Night Live and Mad TV.

Each Blind Date sets up a rendezvous, and sends cameras along with the couple. Producers insert graphics on the screen that keep a running commentary on fashion faux pas, dating blunders and what people are really thinking when they say something else.

"It's certainly a relationship show because we're putting two people together, but we look at it as a comedy," said David Garfinkle, co-executive producer. "That's why it does so well."

The Blind Date ratings are fairly typical for a syndicated show, but it has unusually strong appeal among 18-to-34-year-olds, particularly men, she said. Advertisers pay a premium because this audience is usually so hard to reach.

The televised blind dates last about 10 minutes. In real life, the couples are together for as long as 12 hours, usually enough time for their true personalities to escape camouflage.

"It's a really long date," said Kim Ketterman, a 26-year-old actress and substitute teacher who appeared last year. "By the time you're done, it's like your fifth or sixth date."

Her date with Jeff Starr, a 26-year-old rock singer, was pleasant but didn't amount to much. They've talked since, but haven't dated again.

Ms. Ketterman, originally from Cleveland, was portrayed as a sweet, innocent Midwestern girl. Mr. Starr came off like "a sex-crazed maniac," she said.

They toured a house that had a collection of horror-movie memorabilia, went to a place that made love potions, had dinner and then drinks.

At the bar, a table of women nearby began hitting on her date, Ms. Ketterman said.

"It was kind of amusing at first, but I told him, 'If you embarrass me in any way, you're dead,"' she said.

Blind Date has traveled to different locales, but retains a freewheeling California sensibility. The hot tub is a Blind Date staple; many of the couples ask to end their date there.