Expect pain on Cowell's dating show
By Hal Boedeker | Sentinel Television Critic
Posted June 28, 2003
Putting Simon Cowell in charge of a dating show is like letting Joan Rivers mediate a peace conference. It's not going to be pretty. The tell-it-like-it-is judge from American Idol is no milquetoast matchmaker.
Why should a 43-year-old record producer who has never been married be ushering others toward the altar?
"I've never been a pop star either, but I manage on American Idol," Cowell says with his familiar British crispness.
His Cupid won't debut until July 9 on CBS, but Cowell came over from London this week to make the promotional rounds by visiting David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Howard Stern and co-hosting Live With Regis and Kelly.
Cowell promises that Cupid won't be like The Bachelor or any of its knockoffs (Joe Millionaire, Mr. Personality, For Love or Money).
"There will be no red roses, no violin music, no soft focus," he says by phone. "There will be a lot of pain."
"I'm afraid so," he says. "I've seen the audition reel."
The 11-episode Cupid strives to help Lisa Shannon, a 25-year-old advertising writer from Detroit, find a worthy mate. Pals Kimberly and Laura -- Cowell says they are nicknamed "the pit bulls" -- weigh in on the prospective candidates.
"We've all been there: You see a pretty girl, you try to hit on her, her friends savage you. We try to carry that asthetheme of the show," Cowell says. "It's what you see in any bar."
CBS Chairman Les Moonves calls Cupid a lark and an interesting way for his network to do a dating show. "It's a lot more candid stuff as only Simon Cowell can do it," he says. "I think it will be a hoot."
The three women whittle the field down from roughly 40 to 10 candidates during cross-country auditions in the first two episodes. They have to wade through some "lunatics being let loose" to impress Shannon, "guys with iguanas on their shoulders," Cowell says.
By episode four, viewers can watch filmed dates, listen to the friends' analyses and vote for Mr. Right. The dating segment will be this show's answer to the musical performances on American Idol. In the process, the man with the fewest votes is ejected each week.
Why let America, with its high divorce rate, select the potential fiance?
"Looking at the track record of previous dating shows, they can't do any worse," Cowell says.
Other dating shows are like daytime soap operas, he adds, and they just don't work when left to their own devices.
"You can't call them reality shows," he says. "When you're making a reality show, let the audience feel like it's looking through the keyhole. I love to show warts and all."
Cupid also dangles a $1 million prize if America creates a happy couple that agrees to marry.
"If America gets it wrong, she has to turn it down," Cowell adds. "Once you put a bounty on someone's head, you attract a lot of sleazeballs. In Miami, there were a lot of gold diggers, very tanned and very oily."
The couple must stay married a year to collect the prize money. If the premise succeeds, Cowell says the show will give a needy man the Cupid treatment next time around.
Cowell says there's "a good chance" he'll return to American Idol next season despite his earlier suggestions otherwise. He's still hearing from fans about the close showdown between victor Ruben Studdard and runner-up Clay Aiken from last month's finale of the second edition.
"It was exactly as I hoped it would be, a close competition," Cowell says. "It was a walkover the first year," he says of Kelly Clarkson's victory.
Cowell turns surprisingly diplomatic when discussing American Juniors, the younger version of Idol.
"It's OK, it's not my bag," he says. "I've never worked with kids. I couldn't judge that show. I'd be thrown out of America. It's hard enough to judge 25-year-olds."
Cowell is enjoying People magazine's designation of him as one of the "25 Hottest Bachelors," along with Prince William and actor Ashton Kutcher. "It's completely amusing to me. It didn't do any harm," he says.
As for Cupid, Cowell will make short appearances "only on the first two shows," he says. "It doesn't need me. The show works so well."
He adds that he has done "the least amount of work" among the four Cupid executive producers and that he has a good team working on the show.
"I try to put my character on the show," he says. "It does what I want the show to do. It has a sense of humor, a purpose, it's funny to watch and it is me."
He has no concerns that Cupid will hurt his image as TV's meanest man. "Honest Simon, I like to be known as," he says.