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Make a Date

Dating shows face tough challenges 3/06/2005 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Telepictures is still in the matchmaking game, at least for another season. The syndication arm of Warner Bros. has just renewed elimiDate, its half-hour reality/comedy strip that sets single people up on dates with four suitors. Three are eliminated during the course of each episode.

“When you put five people together, it's like putting five pieces of wood together. You're going to have fire,” says Alex Duda, the show's executive producer. “It's all about story and surprise.” ElimiDate is currently broadcast in 96% of the U.S.

Duda is always looking for new twists to keep her show fresh. During “Spy Week,” she places a mole among the four suitors, who secretly passes information to the picker. “Help Is on the Way Week” adds a sixth member to the cast: a friend, relative or even an “ex” who helps make crucial decisions.

Debuting in 2001, other members of elimiDate's freshman class included Change of Heart (also from Warner Bros.), Rendez-view (Paramount) and Shipmates (Sony). Only elimiDate is still standing. It faces just one rival in first-run syndication: NBC Universal's titillating Blind Date. When Blind Date premiered in 1999, it blazed new territory by taking viewers on the date.

Blind Date sets two people up, then uses on-screen graphics to poke fun at the sometimes awkward situations. The approach may be irreverent, but it leaves more room for romance than elimiDATE's survival-of-the-fittest dating contests. NBC U says it is looking to renew Blind Date for a seventh season, but has yet to announce it has won enough clearances to do so.

In fact, both shows are ratings-challenged. Blind Date pulled a 1.2 average household rating from Sept. 20 to Feb. 13, while elimiDate had a 1.1 average household rating during the same period.

Many stations schedule the dating strips in overnight time slots. ABC affiliate KITV Honolulu runs elimiDate following a block of paid programming that airs after Jimmy Kimmel Live.

“It kills a time slot at 1 a.m.,” says KITV GM Mike Rosenberg, who plans to sign up for another season. Telepictures will let him renew for just a single season, giving Rosenberg the flexibility to switch gears, he says, if something better comes along for fall 2006.

Although the genre has a high failure rate, Telepictures EVP Hilary Estey-McLoughlin believes elimiDate has staying power: “It continues to compete effectively in late night.”

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