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Cover PageSend to a FriendPrint VersionContact UsAdvertisePost a Free Classified'Dating in the Dark,'better than it soundsOriginal take on the so-tired reality hook-up genre By Tom Conroy Jul 20, 2009 Although another reality show about relationships may seem beyond redundant at this point, "Dating in the Dark" is both relatively novel and surprisingly enjoyable.

In the show, debuting tonight at 9 p.m.

on ABC, three single men and three single women interact with one another in a completely dark room, then choose a partner based on their nonvisual impressions.

At the end, each one sees his or her chosen partner in the light and decides whether or not to keep dating.

(Infrared cameras show viewers what's going on.) Though the premise is original by reality TV standards, it does stir up unpleasant memories of "Mr.

Personality," a 2003 reality flop (hosted by Monica Lewinsky) in which an attractive woman had to choose among 20 masked suitors of varied attractiveness.

(In another bit of tacky-dating-TV déjà vu, the host of "Dating in the Dark," Rossi Morreale, was one of the alluring single men on the second season of "Temptation Island.") The virtues of "Dating in the Dark" are mainly those of omission: In the premiere at least, none of the participants are blatantly unattractive, so we're spared any displays of shame or humiliation when the eventual couples first see each other in the light.

The producers didn't cast any of the usual reality freaks (like, say, the foot fetishist in the current season of "The Bachelorette").

No one is pressured to make an absurdly serious commitment, like getting engaged.

And the show generally lacks the mean-spiritedness that usually lies beneath the dating genre's sentimental frosting.

Shockingly, when the women are asked to take off their tops so the men can examine the garments, the producers don't show us a teasing shot of them undressing behind the room divider.

Of course, some reality clichés are inevitable.

Dragging their wheelie suitcases, the six participants show up at the de rigueur mansion somewhere in the hills of Los Angeles.

(The reality industry must be single-handedly supporting the luxury rental market in L.A.) And one of the participants, a 31-year-old SAT tutor and self-described genius named Stephen, is only too willing to play up his stereotype, saying of his possible true love, "Hopefully she has good pheromones and a good hip-to-waist ratio." This being Los Angeles, there's a good chance that all of the participants are would-be actors.

That said, there's also a good chance that they've been coached in how to behave, if not told exactly what to say and do, but some suspension of disbelief has always been part of the reality TV experience.

Suffice it to say that "Dating in the Dark" doesn't seem more or less staged than the average relationship show.

The couples first meet in a group in the "darkroom." Describing the situation, Léni, a 27-year-old nanny from Melbourne, Australia, says, "I really loved that they're not looking at your boobs.

They have to listen to you." She then goes on to find an amazing shared enthusiasm with each of the three guys.

She owns turntables like Allister, the 31-year-old DJ from Manchester, England; she likes the same make of car as Seth, the 31-year-old audio designer; and she's interested in grammar and vocabulary like Stephen.

Testing the boys' knowledge, she proceeds to mispronounce "antecedent." (Know-it-all Stephen, after correcting her, gives the wrong etymology for the word.) Basing their judgment on that first group meeting, the participants choose someone with whom to have a one-on-one date.

Then they are paired up according to compatibility tests.

Some of the romantic developments are a little hard to follow, possibly because too much activity is crammed into the hour.

The aforementioned shirt examinations, for example, could be dropped, although they do reveal that Stephen the pheromone enthusiast might be a smell fetishist.

Generally, the things we learn about the participants are more pleasant—and often surprising.

Some of the singles prove to be more sensitive than expected, others more adventurous.

Viewers will probably be surprised to find themselves caring how it's all going to turn out.

Tom Conroy is a Connecticut writer and longtime TV critic.

� 2009 Media Life Magazine Latest headlinesAnother bummer summer Sunday nightMagical numbers for 'Wizards on Deck'Remembering Walter Cronkite, newsman'Dating in the Dark,' better than it soundsBuyers welcome Nielsen radio diaries Manager: Paula may leave Fox's 'Idol'Your client sprayed on sidewalksOn NBC, sniffing out the way bad guysMark Rosenthal becomes CEO at Current MediaMichael Ricci leading mobile marketing at MerkleJoseph Galarneau becomes CIO at NewsweekYves Saada becomes VP of digital media at Disney Publishing WorldwideJorja Fox returning to 'CSI'Evan Smith becomes CEO of the Texas TribuneEric Kuhn becomes audience interaction producer at CNN.comAmber Clayton joins the cast of CBS's 'Three Rivers'
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