The New Normal for Dating Shows

With social distancing and amplified safety protocols, dating formats are adapting to the times.

Though lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease in many places around the world, self-quarantining and social distancing will, by and large, remain pervasive for some time. Producers and distributors are evaluating what this means for the future of dating shows. Relationship-based formats are being adjusted with the health and safety of participants top of mind, and some of the innovation could, in turn, be upping the entertainment for audiences at home.

“Research has shown that physical contact is a basic necessity of life,” says Maarten Meijs, the president of global entertainment at ITV Studios. “Especially in these times of mandatory social distancing, the desire for interpersonal contact is even higher than normal. This genre has, therefore, never been more popular as it provides an answer to this need.”

Meijs says that ITV Studios is reviewing all of its production scenarios to look at how things can work going forward. “Now that governments are moving away from strict legislation, there are some routes imaginable where we can safely produce several dating shows. Of course, we would absolutely take all the measures into account in order to keep production responsible and everyone involved in it safe.”

Can Okan, founder and CEO of Inter Medya, acknowledges that dating formats, with their emphasis on courtship and chemistry, certainly face challenges in the current climate, “but this can also be a good time to rediscover and emerge fresh ways to create ideas.”

“In today’s world, there are a number of innovative dating applications developed,” he adds. “As [people] are socializing and dating through smartphone apps, virtual dates and events already became part of our world. New and modern formats can be produced by taking inspiration from these apps. Video formats or video dating programs might just become interesting new ways to continue dating shows. Surely, nothing beats meeting face-to-face, and a studio atmosphere has great value both for audiences and contestants. We will have to adapt our own dating formats, including Courage to Love and The Perfect Couple, to the new normal as well. For instance, we can ensure the safety of our crew members and contestants in The Perfect Couple by keeping them in quarantine for a limited time period on the isolated island where the show takes place.”

Izzet Pinto, founder and CEO of Global Agency, says that during these times, Big Brother-type shows with wedding themes have great promise. “You can locate the contestants in an isolated place, and they can live in a safe environment for months. In these difficult coronavirus days, these kinds of formats would work well and be safe for the production team.”

He adds that The Parent Trap, which sees kids trying to set up their single parents, would be a great fit, because there is no need for a studio audience and it has a cost-effective structure. He further highlights Perfect Bride, which divides contestants into two houses monitored 24/7: one for the grooms and one for the brides and mothers.

Nina Etspüler, group creative director at Red Arrow Studios, acknowledges that some dating formats are more flexible than others—and require less interaction. “There are ways to think creatively around elements such as physical contact: maybe even prolonging contact helps to build anticipation and form better relationships—something that fans of Kinetic Content’s Love is Blind, which starts with singles physically quarantined from each other, already know well,” she says.

“We are also looking at the feasibility of testing and quarantining couples in some territories, in the lead-up to and during the shoot. Some of our companies have also developed remotely-produced programs such as Kinetic Content’s Married at First Sight: Couples’ Cam for Lifetime, a self-shot series following nine fan-favorite MAFS couples. While this isn’t a dating show as such, spin-offs are a great way to keep the dating genre alive while we await a return to production.”

ITV Studios’ Meijs says that, where possible, that plan is to ensure social distancing or quarantines are used effectively to protect cast and crew. “We are already doing this in our hugely successful new dating show Let Love Rule, currently on air in the Netherlands on SBS6. Creatively, we have found a very effective way to produce the show safely in our local (Dutch) market and production has been able to continue during lockdown while maintaining social distancing. But also, for the storyline of the format, we were able to stick to the core elements of the show while maintaining social distancing. It’s great to see that this has not affected the strength of the format—seeing if sparks will fly and how long they decide to stay together in one apartment.”

He adds that for other productions, including Love Island, ITV Studios is in active discussions with its partners on ways to produce shows safely.

“In almost all industries you see changes being made due to the new situation,” Meijs says. “You need to be creative, innovative and think in possibilities. It’s currently happening for many genres, and the dating genre is definitely among them.”

Inter Medya’s Okan emphasizes the value and importance of digital these days. “Every sector looks for and finds their way to digitize their business,” he says. “This may be an opportunity to develop new ideas and formats for every genre, including dating. Audiences love and appreciate innovative and new ideas. As long as an entertaining and captivating idea is presented to them, it has an advantage.”

“The challenges that we are all going through will—and already do—spark lots of innovation, in the dating genre, in non-scripted generally, and in the TV medium as a whole,” agrees Red Arrow’s Etspüler. “Producers have all been forced to be creative by the quick commissioning decisions of broadcasters. I think that the crisis will also have sparked innovation in terms of how to produce shows a bit quicker and a bit cheaper without reducing quality.”