The 13 Best Dating Shows To Binge (Now That Love Island’s Over)

From mid 90s TV gold to modern-day 'romance'.


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These days, everyone loves a reality love story but it’s nothing new. Vicki Notaro looks at the most iconic romance-themed programmes ever to grace the telly…

Celebs Go Dating

Almost everyone who’s ever been on another reality show in the UK has appeared on this E4 show about a dating agency for the rich and famous. It’s cringey, it’s awkward, it’s TV gold. Also deserving of a mention (and for supplying the celebrity agency with so many clients) is Ex on the Beach. The first season was arguably the greatest, as it perhaps could be said that the contestants didn’t really know that their exes were going to emerge from the sea, all wet and vindictive. The only known face on that series was Vicki Pattison, and everybody was just waiting to see how pissed off she’d be when they brought out her ex-fiancé, Geordie Shore’s Ricci (the answer – very!).

First Dates

Our own version of the Channel 4 hit is decent, but Fred and Merlin still rule the roost when it comes to First Dates, and it’s (even better, IMO) spin-off, First Dates Hotel. Eager beavers looking for love descend upon a London restaurant to meet someone the producers have picked for them, and share a meal in the hope of finding everlasting love. It’s quite simple, and that’s the beauty of it – some have heaps of chemistry and hit it off right away, others are repelled almost instantly. Some get locked and make a holy show of themselves, others are stuck up and rude. It’s absolutely compulsive viewing.

Naked Attraction

Some dating shows could only happen in America, but this could only happen in Great Britain. It’s a reality show in which people find a potential mate by… staring at their bits and ranking them. Yep, before any faces of these prospective partners are seen, we get to look at their boobs, bums, and even genitalia, and judge them on these things alone. But don’t fear! Once the chooser has picked their date, they then also have to get their kit off in a nod to fairness and balance, and then the pair strut off, naked as the day they were born, hand in hand into the sunset. Wow.


Who’s old enough to remember Davina McCall running around the streets of the UK trying to find dates for hapless contestants? It was like “will you meet me mate?” only it was an entire television show. Imagine the Happn app, but again, an entire TV show. It was recently rebooted with Scarlett Moffatt, but sadly that wasn’t scandalous enough to hit a ratings high.


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Love Is Blind

It’s the Netflix series that had everyone talking, and let me start by saying – only in America. Male and female contestants live separately and only meet in adjoining pods for the chats, without being able to see one another. All sounds grand, until we’re a couple of days in and there are marriage proposals flying! The aim of the game is to find someone to marry without ever laying eyes on them, and it’s as wild as it sounds. Hooked.

Take Me Out

The English version of this show reinvigorated comedian Paddy McGuinness’ career when he signed on as host, thanks to, er, iconic catchphrases like “No lighty, no likey!” But in fairness, that is basically the concept in a nutshell. Some eejit fella comes out of a lift and dances around, and if you don’t like what you see, you turn off your light and are ineligible for a date. Those lucky enough to score head off to the isle of Fernandos for a mini break, with the object of their affections, and more often than not, it’s cringe at. Our version, hosted by Ray Foley, didn’t have the same pizazz, mostly because Fernandos was the bar upstairs in the Helix Theatre.


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The Villa

Who remembers this late 90s late-night show on Sky One? Before the age of the dating algorithm, very high tech “computers” were used to match four girls and four guys. Without telling them who they’d matched with, they all shared a Spanish Villa and got to know one another. The whole point was whether or not they’d pick the “right” match for themselves. The same bloke that created it also made Temptation Island, in which seemingly solid couples would test their relationships by spending time on a deserted island with only attractive members of the opposite sex.

Paisean Faisean

Ahh, early Noughties Irish language realness! Who could forget the TG4 show in which a woman chose a date with a fella on the basis of his shopping prowess. They’d see the gal in question in jeans, and learn a little bit about her, then it was off round the shops with €400, a pricey sum if you ask me. He has to buy her an outfit she’ll like, and if he succeeds, they’d had off and have dinner. I mean, talk about a Celtic Tiger show, but it was strangely addictive. The lads could never speak a work as Gaeilge and seemed mortified. A golden age of TV.

Blind Date

“What’s your name and where do you come from?” Ah, the iconic Cilla Black and her amazingly lo-fi show coloured most of my Saturday nights as a child. The premise was very simple – a lovely girl or guy would ask questions to three girls or guys on the opposite side of a sliding partition, and choose to go on a date with them on the basis of their (heavily scripted) answers. Cilla always wanted to buy a hat for a wedding, bless her, and she did get her chance a couple of times. She and Graham the voiceover man were TV’s golden couple. We did try our own attempt at an Irish version not so long ago, but the less said about that, the better.

The Bachelor and the Bachelorette

How fuming am I that these shows didn’t air in the UK and Ireland? VERY, because they are an absolute scream. Each season, producers find a blandly attractive man or a perky woman to be their star, and then a heap of good looking people to compete for their hand in marriage. It doesn’t seem to matter if anyone actually fancies the Bachelor or the Bachelorette, because it’s basically a vehicle to superstardom in the States. There’s a very dramatic rose-giving ceremony in every episode, and there have been several weddings as a result – but more catastrophe than success.


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MTV’s Finest

When you think about how many dating shows have been on MTV, it’s hard to imagine how they ever had time to play music videos!? It all started with Singled Out in 1995, a strange show that involved parading past a willing candidate for them to choose you by handing you an inanimate object. The success of that made way for a rake of shows, including but not limited to Next (you uttered that word to stop the date at any stage), Date My Mom (in which your mam picked your fella by dating him first), Room Raiders (you were judged by how gross your bedroom was), Are You The One, The Bi Life and many, many more. Then there were the shows based on celebs finding love – Flavour of Love with Flavour Flav, and A Shot At Love with Tila Tequila. I’m exhausted just thinking about them.

Flirty Dancing

Perhaps the most mortifying of them all, this is a show in which contestants aim to seduce each other through the medium of… dance. Having never met, the prospective couple each learn a paired routine separately, and then meet up and have to perform said dance to see if sparks fly. I can’t even watch a minute of it, but er, fair play for creativity.

Married At First Sight

The title is pretty self-explanatory – this is a programme about people who are so bloody fed up of dating, they sign up to marry someone they’ve never met, seen or heard of, but who has been chosen for them by experts and their own family members. Sounds horrific, right? Well, yeah, it usually ends badly and has been accused of making an absolute mockery of marriage. And as of now, none of the marriages from the UK version has lasted. Bad buzz. However, a quarter of the contestants on the US show have, so that’s something at least.


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