Simon lets 'Cupid' viewers sling arrows for a change

Wed May 7, 7:32 AM ET
Gary Levin USA TODAY

As American Idol climbed the Nielsen charts last summer, fans wondered who judge Simon Cowell would insult next.

''I was constantly asked, 'Why don't you do things like acting Idol or comedy Idol?' '' he says. ''And I said it would never work, because there's nothing more humiliating than singing live in public, bar one thing perhaps: a guy walking into a bar, seeing a girl he likes, trying to talk to her and having her friends demolish him.''

Presto! Cowell's first foray into solo producing is Cupid, an 11-week CBS dating series due in July. It joins perhaps 20 other summer reality shows, and it comes as Fox's disappointing Mr. Personality proves that the format Joe Millionaire turned to gold may be more fluke than foolproof.

Cowell, who won't appear in Cupid, says the setup is unique: Dates are selected by a woman and her pals, then winnowed by viewers.

''I've never understood the premise of a dating show whereby the girls have got to select people who have been pre-selected by producers.''

Instead, Cupid sends Lisa Shannon, 25, an advertising copywriter from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., to audition men in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Miami starting May 19. Shannon and two friends become Idol-style judges as each hopeful gets 30 seconds to impress them.

''All the girls can relate to it because it's payback, and all the guys are going to shudder because they've been there before,'' Cowell says. Beginning in the fourth week, Cupid airs live, as Shannon recalls dates with each of 10 finalists. Viewers then vote off one guy a week until a winner remains. The prize: A $1 million dowry, payable only if the couple stays together for a year.

Producers picked Shannon, a self-described ''reality-TV junkie,'' for her non-showbiz ways.

''I was trying to get away from the stereotyped actress in L.A.,'' Cowell says. Shannon ''was vulnerable. She's about as normal as you can get, other than the fact that she's drop-dead gorgeous.''

Will she be upset if viewers vote off the man of her dreams? ''I'm picking the wrong guys, anyway,'' she says, ''so they can't do any worse than I am.''