Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


-- television -- romance, romance

Recently, I had occasion to watch Oxygen's Mr Romance competition ( for a list of contestants and associated video footage). I didn't set out to watch it; I was just channel surfing. Our particular cable lineup is a bit odd in how things are grouped, so the scenes passing in front of me that day went something like: BET, news, news, more news, NASCAR, baseball, something schmaltzy on Lifetime Movie Network, something with Meredith Baxter on Lifetime, some other movie on Women's Entertainment, a bunch of white women groping a very muscular, extremely scantily clad and sopping wet black or Latino guy on Oxygen, repeat of Iron Chef on Food Network, home shopping and ...

Wait, what was that one a couple channels back?

It was, in fact, an ad for the then-upcoming episode of Mr Romance. They were just starting a repeat of the first two episodes of the series. There seemed to be a lot of eye candy, so I decided to see what the show was. (Yes, I can be shallow.) By the end of the first episode, I was hooked.

Oxygen and Harlequin coproduced the Mr Romance Competition. The winner would appear on the covers of many of the books published by Harlequin and its imprints over the next year, and make appearances at book stores and romance conventions (yes, there are such things). He would also get $50,000, apart from the book cover contract and appearance fees. To determine the winner, the final 12 competitors would be required to stay in the Romance Academy for some indefinite time (it looked to be at least a couple of weeks, and maybe longer, but it was very unclear) and engage in various competitions. At the end of that, two people would be eliminated, and the final ten would advance to the staged pageant finals, wherein Mr Romance 2005 would be chosen.

The executive producer of Mr Romance was (wait for it .....) Gene Simmons. Yes, the guy from the metal(ish) rock band with the big hair, way too much makeup, and the scary yet intriguing tongue. THAT Gene Simmons. (Dear god in heaven. The man is trolling for groupies past on his website! For a tell-all book of celebrity encounters! Egad! But I digress.)

Oh, the cheese, people. The pure unadulterated CHEESE of it all! There was no depth of cheesiness to which they would not sink. Some of it was unintentional, some of it was deliberate – for example, the sight that originally caught my eye was the “Goddess Grope” in which the contestants flexed their physiques for the judges' tactile evaluation. And I'm pretty sure that there was a rider in all the contracts that stated, "All contestants will be at least shirtless during 60% of their time in the competition." There was the de rigeur off-air discovery that one of the contestants had once posed nude. Then there was the final pageant itself, which included an opening Dance-off (no, really, a dance-off!) in which they quite literally ripped their shirts off to stand nipples to the wind! Men in Skirts as an official competition section! A near-kiss competition, in which one of the contestants clearly did not get the “NEAR-kiss” memo. (The person whom he actually sort of kissed was not expecting it, and was not terribly happy about it, I think.)

The show did have a very peculiar tendency to equate any strong emotion (aside from anger) or any friendliness between the contestants with being gay. Understand: we're not even talking locker-room jocks butt-patting friendly; we're just talking “sitting around talking trash about the other contestants” friendly or telling people how to make the most of their assets friendly or laughing together at some godawful joke friendly. The former centerfold talking to his girlfriend on the phone was spliced together with footage of host Fabio to make it seem like they were vaguely propositioning each other. None of the men escaped, and it was clearly done in a sort of “we're all poking fun at everything to do with this stuff” spirit. Nonetheless, it was very strange to see.

The competition produced a genuinely shocking (albeit truly deserving) winner. To be sure, Randy Ritchwood, the winner, shocked me because I frankly never thought that Harlequin would put a dark-skinned black man on the cover of several books published over the next year, as the contract requires. Mr Ritchwood does not look even a little like previous Mr Romances. That said, Randy was one of the three guys in the competition who really, genuinely seemed to understand how to present a romantic image. (The judging panel wound up being mostly unaffiliated with Harlequin, so they were free to pick the best person, which they really did. It also turns out that Harlequin publishes a line of romances specifically designed to appeal to black women, so they maybe can finesse the issue somewhat. On top of that, according to a interview with Randy and Andrew Larson, the People's Choice Mr Romance, Harlequin may be committed to as few as three book covers for Randy, which seems rather paltry. On the other hand, they do have to work all this in with the rest of their lives, so maybe the time it would take is just too much.'s Reality TV section also has an interview with and pictures of Mr Ritchwood. Oooh la la...)

Watching the show, a few things became clear:

Romance basically comes from two sources: character and story. You need compelling, interesting characters, and they need compelling, interesting storylines. The guy who won was the guy who managed to combine his character with a compelling enough personal story that people wanted to know about.

Posted by iain at 12:29 AM in category television