This Blind Date was no dud

Universal has struck sparks between singles with its relationship strip
Blind Date

and has fired up flirtation from several competing syndicators.

On deck for possible fall 2001 launches are Paramount's
, pitched as a cross between
Blind Date

Politically Incorrect
; Columbia TriStar's
, described as
Love Boat

Blind Date
; and Warner Bros.'
, which is sort of a beefed-up
Blind Date

(one guy or gal with four potential suitors).

Everyone knows that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but can
Blind Date

stand up to the new competition next year?

"Usually, the first in the genre survives," says Katz TV's Bill Carroll. "It's the survival of the imitators that's something to look out for."

It's true that no one has knocked
Judge Judy


off their No. 1 perch, but relationship shows sometimes follow a different pattern. "
Love Connection

got on the air, but after [Warner Bros.']
Change of Heart

got on,
Love Connection

didn't return," remembers Carroll.

However, the overriding sense from stations is "they're placing
Blind Date

as the primary show and positioning the others as its complements," he says.

Even if
Blind Date

is still on good terms with stations, Universal is mounting a strike against new rivals with its own companion to
Blind Date
The Fifth Wheel
. Hosted by comic Aisha Tyler and produced by
Blind Date

producers David Garfinkle, Jay Renfroe and Thomas Klein,
Fifth Wheel

puts two guys and two gals into a limo, later introducing a fifth person into the group date.

"This could possibly be an ex, who upsets the romantic binds that have started to form," says Matt Cooperstein, Universal Worldwide Television's senior vice president of domestic distribution.

No deals have been announced for the show, currently being shopped to stations, "but the reception for it has been extremely positive," he says.

And all of these Cupid's arrows flying around haven't exactly punctured Cooperstein's spirit. "
Blind Date

was a hit in a new genre, so we knew there was going to be [more spins on the format]. But we were the first mover in the genre, and we'll be the second mover with
The Fifth Wheel

Ned Nalle, president of Universal Worldwide Television, believes the rollout of
Fifth Wheel

shortly after
Blind Date

will echo the studio's launch of
Xena: Warrior Princess

as a companion to
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
. In 1998, Studios USA acquired the action hours, but Universal still sells them overseas.

"As we told [

producers], we told [
Blind Date's

Garfinkle, Renfroe and Klein] that we need to evolve the form for creative and defensive reasons," says Nalle. "And they have. We are taking
Blind Date

to the next threshold."

Now in its sophomore season,
Blind Date

has secured such recent upgrades as a double run at 5:30 p.m. on KBHK-TV San Francisco and a second airing at 12:30 a.m. on KPRC-TV Houston.