- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

‘Newlyweds’ bliss

Hollywood Reporter

Erasing memories of “The Osbournes,” MTV’s “Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica” was the top-rated original cable series in the October ratings period (Sept. 29 to Oct. 26), according to Nielsen Media Research data obtained from MTV Networks. Since inheriting the time slot of MTV’s infamously dysfunctional family, “Newlyweds” — starring pop princess Jessica Simpson and her husband, 98 Degrees singer Nick Lachey — has become a potent player for the network in its 10-week run.

“Newlyweds” was one of seven MTV series to score more than a 2.0 household rating during the final week of the month in its target 12-to-34-year-old demographic — a first that helped propel the network to its best October ratings ever.

Love is ‘Blind’

Who would have guessed Roger Lodge of “Blind Date” is a romantic softie?

Mr. Lodge, the sardonic guide to the underrated late-night reality romp, says his most memorable “Blind Date” episode didn’t involve hot tubs or indecent exposure. The unforgettable date paired two Southerners, “and from the moment she answered the door, it was magic,” Mr. Lodge recalls, adding that the two are living together.

The handsome host is in love himself. He interrupts a recent interview to catch up with his unnamed gal pal, whom he calls “Boo Boo.”

Of course, for every match “Blind Date” makes, it botches about 100 or so. Some won’t cotton to the show’s moments of licentiousness, which regularly include a dip in the hot tub.

Look closer. Or rather, read closer. The show’s pop-up gags and psychological snapshots are both funnier and more revealing than most sitcoms.

“Blind Date” can be seen on WB50 at 11:30 weeknights. Back-to-back older episodes air at 6 weeknights on Spike TV.

In between the participants’ arguing and the show’s rapid-fire gags come some pretty basic lessons in human behavior.

“When I started with the show five years ago, I was the biggest dating hack out there,” Mr. Lodge says.

“I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, but you sit through 2,000 of anything and you learn a thing or two,” continues Mr. Lodge, who will condense that wisdom into a soon-to-be-released dating book.

The key recurring theme of the disastrous date is people trying too hard.

“It creates an air of desperation, a big turnoff in any walk of life,” he says. “So many of the guys are trying so hard to be something they’re not.”

It might seem otherwise, but Mr. Lodge swears the show attempts to find compatible couples.

“The heart and soul of the show, since day one, is we really try to hook people up and hope it works out,” he says. “A lot of times we see Lisa the librarian with Doug the rock ‘n’ roll guy, [but] Lisa told us that’s what she’s looking for.”

The show is nothing if not efficient. Mr. Lodge says he knows of only one arranged date that didn’t make it on the air. Some dates, he admits, took a little prodding from the field producers to be completed.

He says the show has hit its rhythm behind the scenes after four seasons on the air.

The average date, he says, takes from 10 days to two weeks to be fully produced.”It’s like an assembly line,” he says. Camera operators film the date — about six to seven hours of footage. Then the material is whittled down to about 25 minutes of the most interesting interplay. From there it gets handed to another set of producers, who shrink it down to roughly 6 minutes. The pop-up animation completes the program.

Mr. Lodge also hosts a Los Angeles sports radio show and appears on other radio chat fests as well as the occasional sitcom. He cut his hosting teeth on the E! network, where he occasionally subbed for hosts of the now defunct “Talk Soup.”

So far, “Blind Date” has led to a grand total of two marriages, but Mr. Lodge understands love can’t be created on a whim.

“We don’t promise you a love connection, but let’s enjoy the ride,” Mr. Lodge says. “What are the odds of throwing two complete strangers together working out? In baseball, [hitting] three out of 10 is a superstar. If you can bat .200 in the dating world you’re a star.”

Ritter’s sitcom returns

Tonight’s one-hour episode of “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” tackles the untimely death of star John Ritter with a plot mirroring reality.

The show marks the first episode without Mr. Ritter, who died Sept. 11 after collapsing on the set of the ABC show from an undiagnosed heart ailment. “8 Simple Rules” proved ABC’s sole breakout sitcom last year, and the network appears keen on keeping it going, both in Mr. Ritter’s memory and for the chance to continue milking a rare hit.

Joining the cast tonight, at least for a few episodes, are James Garner and Suzanne Pleshette playing Katey Sagal’s estranged parents, who help the family cope with the loss.

The episode, airing at 8, was taped without a studio audience.

Extended life

ABC’s freshman comedy lineup has gotten a full-season extension, the network has announced.

First-season comedies “Hope & Faith,” “I’m With Her,” “It’s All Relative” and “Married to the Kellys” all will finish out the television year or at least produce enough episodes to do so.

ABC also extended full-season orders for two of its new dramas — “Threat Matrix” and “10-8.”

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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