July 14, 2005

ABC’s ‘Hooking Up’ is sex in the city for real

By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A new documentary television series
"Hooking Up" follows 11 New York women navigating the pitfalls
of online dating in a show that one reviewer calls "hard-core

The ABC News show, a cross between the hit comedy "Sex and
the City" and a reality TV show, shines a light on the
increasingly popular American pastime and pulls no punches.

"You can get a couch, you can get a bike, you can get a
boyfriend, you can get laid," opera singer Shelly says on the
show about how the Internet can give a woman all she needs.

From hair salon manager Cynthia, who describes one date as
"pure torture," to 28-year-old real-estate broker Amy, who
tells a man on a second date "I want to meet a husband," the
series, which starts on Thursday, details the trials and
tribulations of hunting down Mr. Right.

Executive producer Terence Wrong says "Hooking Up" is no
reality show. He likens it to his previous fly-on-the-wall
shows about the New York Police Department and a hospital.

"You shouldn't have to be somber and earnest and make a
decided effort not to be entertaining in order to be a
legitimate news documentary," Wrong said.

The women in "Hooking Up" are attractive professionals aged
between 26 and 38.

Maryam, a half-Iraqi half-Iranian photographer, says she is
looking for "marriage material" but ends up attracted to a man
whose picture has him lying shirtless on leopard-print sheets.


ABC, owned by The Walt Disney Co., contacted major dating
Web sites to post ads inviting women to participate in the
series, and more than 150 were interviewed. They had to agree
to date only men they meet online, and to go out on dates at
least once or twice a week.

The men, who were warned in advance their dates would be
filmed, are as frank as the women. One man notes that a
prospective date only posted pictures showing her from the
waist up: "She may be hiding what's called junk in the trunk."

The show airs at 9 p.m. and while it contains quite open
discussion of sex and dating, the cameras melt away if there is
any prospect of more than a kiss or a cuddle.

Daily newspaper Newsday said the show was "hardly perfect"
but it was hard not to keep watching. "Mostly, it's hard-core
voyeurism," reviewer Verne Gay wrote.

After shooting 1,200 hours of footage over 10 months,
Wrong's conclusion is online dating is probably only effective
for "chronically shy" people. For the rest, high expectations
are often not met when people meet in the flesh.

"Often on the Internet people are deceitful," Wrong said.

"When you show up at a date you could be meeting an ax
murderer or a Nobel Prize winner."

With online dating so popular, all manner of niche sites
have sprung up.

One such site is beautifulpeople.net, which describes
itself as solely for the "aesthetically beautiful."

The site has been up in Britain since April and goes live
in the United States this month. Existing members vet new
applicants, rating their pictures and profiles. The British
site currently has 4,377 members and 17,933 applicants.

Carolina Trower, a 38-year-old English member, compares it
to going to a ritzy bar rather than a dingy pub full of "dirty
old men."

"We don't want any low standards, any dodgy people, anybody
who's going to be offensive," she said.

But the new technology has not made obsolete old-fashioned
matchmakers, especially for those with cash to burn.

Samantha Daniels, who runs high-end matchmaker Samantha's
Table, says online dating is too much work for some.

Daniels, author of "Matchbook: the Diary of a Modern Day
Matchmaker" and who boasts she has arranged some 50 marriages,
does all the vetting, picks dates from her own friends and
acquaintances and interviews them on behalf of the client.

"My clients are very, very busy with work so the last thing
they want to do is go on a date where there's no chance of it
working," Daniels said.

But personal service comes at a price.

"It's $400 for a consultation which is to meet with me face
to face and talk about who they're looking for, and the package
starts at $10,000," she said.