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Eyes wide shut: ABC's Dating in the Dark is for dim bulbs

Pretty boy Rossi Morreale hosts ABC's Dating in the Dark.

Western civilization takes another stiff punch to the solar plexus with prime-time TV's latest "sexy social experiment."

Otherwise known as ABC's Dating in the Dark, it premieres Monday, July 20th at 9 p.m. (central) and is scheduled to run for six episodes. Your host is Rossi Morreale, whose first TV credit was as a contestant on Fox's Temptation Island. Perfect.

The isle here is a pitch dark room in which six human lab rats, equally split by gender, congregate to answer the age-old question, "Is love blind?" It helps to save on utility bills. And other than the expense of infrared cameras, this is a very low overhead exercise. There's no prize money, no lovely parting gifts, not even a year's supply of Rice-A-Roni. But the embarrassment? Priceless.

A voluble 27-year-old Australian named Leni, who works as a nanny, quickly makes two references to what she believes are her awesome "boobs." Seth, a 31-year-old audio visual designer, feels compelled to ask rhetorically, "Am I a 10? No. Am I a Hobbit? No."

But yes, he is an idiot.

After meeting en masse under cover of dark, the six of 'em return to daylight and host Morreale's command to take their shirts or tops off. This is for the purpose of sniffing, because a person's scent is supposed to provide more clues about them.

Stephen, a 31-year-old SAT tutor and self-described genius, detects a "little bit of ketoacidosis" in Leni's sweat. Christina, 28, a marketing manager, exclaims, "Oops, he's got pit stains" after whiffing Seth's shirt.

Stephen takes it to the next level when he's later in the dark with Christina. "I'm a very big believer in pheromones," he tells her. "Do you mind if I just kinda smell you?" Cringe.

Allister, a 29-year-old bloke from Britain, is a deejay with a sob story. His mum supposedly left Allister and his twin brother when they were very young. So despite his killer looks, Allister says he's never been very confident or smooth with the ladies. And if you believe that, then here's another one: Pauly Shore will be cast as Hamlet in a new feature film adaptation from director Steven Spielberg.

Everyone eventually is paired with their "compatibility matches," as determined by questionnaires and computers. But will the mostly fun times they have in the dark endure after each is spotlighted for the other to see?

There are no roses bestowed. Instead, participants are told to show up on a veranda if they want to continue seeing each other. Not to spoil anything, but there's a prototypical agonizing wait in each instance. Results range from one couple kissing hungrily to a jilted sad sack wondering, "Was I knocked out of the water because of the way I looked?"

Dating in the Dark plans to do it all over again next Monday, apparently in a concerted effort to dethrone NBC's I'm A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here as the summer's worst reality series.

So far so good. Turn out the lights, the party's on.

GRADE: D-minus

Programming note: NBC's The Wanted, a controversial pursuit of terrorists produced by the network's news division, premieres opposite Dating in the Dark Monday night. It was unavailable for review, but here's NBC's official site for the series.