The first dating show I ever watched regularly was Blind Date, the late '90s-early aughts Pop Up Video-esque 30-minute "reality" dating program in which host Roger Lodge (loved that guy!) offered up snarky quips and hilarious commentary about dates that paired up two strangers who were followed around by a camera crew. The ensuing edited video of the date was punctuated with thought bubbles, subtitles, and witticisms that added to the comic tone. The beauty of this show, though it was ridiculous, was that men and women were on a basically even plane: They were both capable of looking like total jerks or insane people, and often did (it's the way of dating, after all, and more than that, the way of the successful dating show. Chalk it up to human foibles, schadenfreude, whatever).
Before Blind Date, though, there were other game show-type dating shows, like perhaps the earliest of all, The Dating Game, which began in 1965, and MTV's Singled Out, from the mid-'90s. These also mostly pitted men and women against each other on something of an even playing field, with a game show feel that made both sexes seem pretty idiotic. They were also launching pads for people who wanted to become celebrities, like Farrah Fawcett and Tom Selleck, who both appeared as contestants on The Dating Game, or Jenny McCarthy (host of Singled Out). Similarly, Blind Date was a way in for people with TV ambitions, like, for example, Ryan Seacrest.
In the years that have followed, we've gotten so many, oh so many, dating shows. Competition-based shows, like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Those numerous MTV shows, like Next and Parental Control, and The Fifth Wheel. Rock of Love, Flavor of Love, A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila, and so on. There are too many to count, but suffice it to say, dating shows are a staple, pairing the big business of reality TV with a universal interest in sex, dating, and relationships. Then enter the "instructional" element, i.e., how to do it right, or how to watch people who are doing it wrong and compare yourself favorably. This idea has bred the matchmaker-based show, like Patti Stanger's show and Steven Ward's Tough Love series.
The problem with any of these shows, and what I felt even more so watching Miss Advised last night, is when they are inherently cruel to women. Much like dating advice books and dating advice "experts" who purport to advise women (and, yes, sometimes men, but the audience in general is mostly women), these shows hope to entice girls with an idea of what they can do better to "snag a guy" while at the same time making fun of or "teaching" women who are doing it wrong. This is a vicious cycle, but it works: Women (and men) are confused about dating, because who isn't? Hoping to get it right, we tune into a show or read a book to teach us "The Rules." And then, maybe, we feel better: We weren't all that bad to start with! But those rules are fake, and, with shows like Tough Love and Miss Advised, we just become complicit in negging other women for "messing up" and laughably doing it so, so wrong. In Tough Love, the women being taught are the objects of our derision; in Miss Advised, those women are the actual teachers, which makes it all the more ridiculous. Maybe in some ways this is good, disillusioning everyone about the dating industry: If the experts are so bad at what they purport to know, why should we listen to them at all? But setting these women up for mockery, even if they're complicit in it, does everyone a disservice as well.