Al Porter set for a lorra lorra laughs in Blind Date revival

Al Porter with 'Blind Date' contestant Dionne O'Brien from Cork.

The ‘Blind Date’ revival is instantly familiar, and while it may border on overly nostalgic it’s set to be a winner with audiences, writes Carolyn Moore.

REMEMBER the good old days? Of course you do! They were simpler times. The world felt safe, and kids could play outside unsupervised until the streetlights came on. Remember playing outside? Red Rover and

Tip the Can; being called in for your bath, then sitting down to watch the telly — family friendly, of course, because with one TV in the house, if something was on you either sat down and watched it as a family, or you missed it.

My good old days might be decades apart from your good old days, but that’s not important here. The good old days, we’ve decided, were unequivocally great, and that’s why we’ve made them our escape from today, which is unequivocally not. One rogue tweet away from nuclear war, we’ve given in en masse to a collective urge to retreat to the safe familiarity of childhood through the pop culture of our youth.

We’ve seen it happen with movies, and last summer, the New York Times ran a feature called ‘TV’s Big Bet on Nostalgia’, predicting that, in the shifting sands of the current television landscape, networks would try to find their footing by betting big on our love for nostalgia; dragging audiences back from their streaming services with reboots of old favourites. It seems TV viewers aren’t the only ones yearning for the past — TV makers too are desperate to return to a pre-Netflix age.

So to paraphrase Bill Hicks, the nostalgia dollar is a big dollar right now. We long for the cosy fog of childhood to envelop us again, sheltering us from the realities of political and economic instability. The ‘80s were no picnic, but if you’re lucky you don’t remember that. You just remember Star Wars and The A Team and Bullseye on a Sunday.

And you definitely remember Blind Date, the latest reboot to make the weekend TV listings feel like something you pulled from under the floorboards of an old house. We had a MacGyver remake last year, a Dynasty reboot is on the way, and a fresh take on Knight Rider is reportedly in the works, so it was only a matter of time before a landmark light entertainment property was deemed ripe for a revamp. The unlikely candidate is Blind Date, “unlikely” because, in today’s dating landscape, it seems so firmly of its time.

A cornerstone of Saturday night family viewing, at the height of its popularity in the ‘80s, 18.2m people tuned in; five of them in the Moore household and several more probably in yours. Fresh out of the bath, in my static-filled dressing gown, I would sit mesmerised by Cilla’s shoulder pads, crunching on Oatfield chocolate orange sweets and feigning bewilderment at Our Graham’s innuendo-filled recaps.

A fixture throughout my childhood, it ran for 18 years, from 1985 to 2003, helmed throughout by the inimitable Ms Black. That’s a lorra lorra childhoods, and comedians Al Porter and Tara Flynn both remember it well, though they watched it about 15 years apart.

While Porter watched with his mum and gran in Tallaght, a teenage Flynn in Kinsale “never went out on a Saturday night till it was over.” Now the pair is set to bring the first Irish Blind Date to our screens, with Porter stepping into Cilla’s shoes and Flynn taking on the mantle of “Our Tara”. Debuting this weekend, TV3 will air it at 9pm on Sunday rather than the traditional Saturday night post-bath slot it enjoyed on ITV, but other than that, the format is frighteningly familiar.

In July, I took myself to the Helix for a glimpse at Blind Date in the making, and I may have discovered the answer to the question, “how much nostalgia is too much nostalgia?” The sets may be glitzier, the quips slightly sharper, but the music, tone, pacing, and Our Tara’s scripted “quick reminders” are all disarmingly recognisable. As the audience clap-along ends and proceedings get underway, it’s clear the goal is to embody the spirit of the original as much as possible; to the extent that you begin to wonder if the spirit of Cilla Black has embodied Al Porter.

Part of Porter’s broad appeal is that disconcerting sense that he — like Blind Date — is somehow of another era; a time of music halls and club comics and smutty seaside postcards. Just 24, he’s what your gran would call “an old soul”, and here even his body language seems to mimic that trademark Cilla warmth — an arm clutch here, a hand clasp there, that familiar lean (you’ll know it when you see it!).

Cupid may have sharpened his arrows, but Porter hasn’t sharpened his tongue for this particular gig, preferring a gentle, jocular approach that’s absolutely on point. If the show ever makes a match as on target as putting him in the driving seat, he may buy himself a hat. All of this is by design, with TV3 keen to stress they weren’t about to mess with a winning formula, so anyone expecting a slick, post-modern makeover will be sorely disappointed.

“It’s from simpler times and there’s something lovely about the recognisable format that nostalgia freaks will love revisiting,” Flynn tells me. “I watched it religiously. It made me laugh and it gave me a lift, and I think there’s room for something like that on TV at the moment.

“People want something sweet and silly and fun. And if your heart doesn’t flutter watching that screen go back, you’re dead inside.”

Describing their update as “lovely, cheesy, funny and heartwarming”, she stresses, “it’s still very much a family show.”

So an irony-free zone it remains, but with Irish contestants in the mix the cringe factor is higher than ever. I’m intrigued to see how it will sit with a millennial audience reared not on the wink wink, nudge nudge innocence of Blind Date, but on its vulgar offspring, Take Me Out. We’ve entered a world of extreme dating, extreme TV, and extreme dating on TV.

In an era of Tinder hookups and dick pics, going on TV to find love certainly won’t raise any eyebrows, but post-Naked Attraction and Love Island, watching to see if a couple reveal they indulged in a quick snog seems positively quaint. And maybe for the contestants that’s part of the appeal. We have all been charmed by the tenderness and vulnerability of First Dates, after all, and what we’ve also learned from its success is that a show with Twitter appeal is manna from heaven for TV bosses who want bums on seats and eyes on ads. This show has it in spades.

“There’ll always be that little bit of Blind Date ‘sauce’,” says Tara. “A bit of innuendo is part of the fun. Perhaps in terms of comedy, people will find it tame, but there’s something gorgeous about that as well. It’s something people can watch together.

“And it has been updated in that the contestants are contemporary, and of the now,” she adds. “And Al is so young, he’s always going to have a bit of an edge to his comedy. There’s just great chemistry there, and I think people are really going to enjoy it.” And you know what? I actually think she’s right.


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