Strictly Personal: New York’s Strangest New Show

Wednesday, Oct. 16

A new television show premiered in New York City last week that we’re going to bet becomes a cult hit. It’s called Strictly Personal , and it is alternately the most fascinating and scary program we think we’ve ever seen.

Yes: It’s more alternately fascinating and scary than The Anna Nicole Show .

Strictly Personal is the television complement to the hyper-successful Spring Street Personals, the new-jack personal-advertisement company that publishes photos and blurbs from young, on-the-prowl singles on the Internet and in a number of publications, including this one. You know Spring Street Personals ads: They’re the “hip” ones with the alluring/alarming shots of men and women mostly in their 20’s and 30’s and the unnerving come-ons (“I am constantly mistaken for a Victoria’s Secret model” or, more subtly, “I know how to work this tongue”) that make you wonder whatever happened to the gamy S.W.F.’s and S.W.M.’s who just wanted Godard matinees and chess in the park.

Now, as a television show Monday nights at 7:30 and 11:30 p.m. on MetroTV, Strictly Personal brings these next-generation singles to multidimensional life. And oh boy-it’s some life.

On the other night’s show, we met “Peaches 77,” an affable young woman who told us, “I like to give spankings, but I can take them like a champ, too.” There was “Norotiousbiggyk”-clearly some misspelled Biggie Smalls joke there, not sure what it is-who said he “got into oral sex by experimenting in high school.” There was “Girl9Ny,” who said she’s “definitely in touch with” her sexuality, and who once broke into someone’s summer house with her boyfriend and shagged in the Jacuzzi.

“A lot of these people are younger, hipper, edgier people,” said Strictly Personal senior producer Dave Goldberg. “And they are happy to talk to you about sexual things.”

This candor, obviously, is what makes Strictly Personal at once so mesmerizing and so frightening. The people behind the show, who work for a joint called Camera Planet, spend a lot of time combing through the print and Internet ads to find people who’d make for a compelling television interview. While not everyone on Strictly Personal is overtly sexual, they do tend to be extroverts.

“We have a woman coming up on next week’s episode who bought Jennifer Lopez’s outfit from The Cell on eBay, and she takes off her clothes and puts it on,” Mr. Goldberg said.

Though the people on the show all appear to be genuinely eager and enthusiastic, there is a mild melancholy to Strictly Personal -the endless longing for senses of humor and good butts; the dreary New York apartments with loft beds and Ikea furniture. It’s enough to make itchy marrieds grateful for their spouses, and prompt cads to commit.

But Mr. Goldberg-whose crews spend up to two hours filming each subject for a segment lasting three or four minutes-said he never feels “sorry for these people.” “Sometimes you laugh, because they’re so goofy,” he said. But “we want people to look good.”

Brad Alexander, a 31-year-old piano player, songwriter and Paul Rudd doppelgänger who goes under the handle “Blue_notes,” was Strictly Personal’ s first-ever subject. He said he was “pretty psyched” about being asked to appear on the show, and truthfully, he comes off rather well as he offers a self-deprecating tour of his cramped studio and a jaunt to his local piano bar. Even if he did say on the air: “I am a breast man, and I am not afraid to admit it.”

“The reaction was good,” said Mr. Alexander, who’s gotten “four or five” contacts since his segment aired. “I thought it was funny, and they did a great job with the editing.”

What is genuinely nice about Strictly Personal is that it provides a real-life antidote to television’s too-long run of greasy dating shows, which have become undone by the long trains of L.A.-type muscle freaks (“Joey Bagadonuts from wherever,” Mr. Goldberg called them) and bubbleheads who do little more than scarf burritos and wine … and whine. Blind Date and its ilk got old fast, mostly because you didn’t really identify with the stars unless you’d been spending a lot of time inside California Pizza Kitchen or Gold’s Gym. Strictly Personal , however, features people everyone’s met before-the Kooky Dancer Girl, the Bookish Lean Guy, the Lonely Rocker Dude, the Cat Chick-and there’s a certain, charming why-not-what-the-fuck New Yorkness to it.

“When you’re telling people you’re doing the online thing, you have to commit to it,” said Mr. Alexander. “You can’t be ashamed of it-or if you are, you have to fake it.”

There are plenty of people who are not ashamed of it. One of Strictly Personal ‘s rituals is asking subjects to show the audience their bedside “goodie drawers.” Mr. Alexander had a raft of condoms inside his, and on another episode, “Prettycitygirl” let the camera tag along as she sifted through her thong collection-“Another thing I can’t live without is thong underwear,” she said-and later blithely whipped out a vibrator.

“We see a lot of vibrators,” said Mr. Goldberg.

The frank new era of sex-positivity has been documented to death, but you don’t have to be a Victorian to look at Strictly Personal and wonder: Who are these unrestrained people? And: What are their friends and co-workers going to think? What about the pals of “NYCguy 2002,” a man who made endless cloying references to his schlong and crowed, “I’m definitely not a player, but I have had a lot of sex.” What’s his next day at the office going to be like? Or what’s Peaches 77’s family going to think when they see her bedside handcuffs and blindfold, or hear her exclaim, “If you can’t give head with a tongue ring, you can’t give head without a tongue ring.”

Of course, that wonderment is part of Strictly Personal ‘s appeal: Things may be bad, but at least you’re not there … yet.

MetroTV, which is surely New York City’s most identity-challenged network-Style! Fashion! Sports!-intends to run a new episode on Mondays and then repeat the hell out of them, but it would probably catch on better if each night’s episode was different (how about a 24-hour personals channel!). Strictly Personal could become a Seinfeld for New York lonelyhearts-or a Scared Straight for commitment-phobes.

In other Metro news, the channel is bringing back another season of the very scary U.K.-produced series To Live and Date in New York. So beware of Bendels-shopping Glamazons hoofing around with Brit cameramen, fellas. Tonight on MetroTV, catch this week’s repeat of Strictly Personal ; hold on for “Techgoddess,” who tempts the fellas by telling them the one thing you’ll see in her apartment is “a lot of cat toys.” Me- ow ! [MET, 70, 11:30 p.m.]

Thursday, Oct. 17

Now that CBS News has pulled back the curtain and-Holy moly! Anchors aweigh!-unveiled its four-headed Early Show couch (Julie Chen, Hannah Storm, Rene Syler and Harry Smith 2.0), executive producer Michael Bass has himself a two-headed problem. First, he’s got to make sure the all-important chem-chem-chemistry’s there, so he can assemble a decent, original show. Second, he’s got to try and figure out how to get more eyeballs to CBS at 7 a.m. sharp.

On the second front, Mr. Bass said he intends to proceed gradually. He’s upbeat at the prospect of Early Show promotion in CBS’s thriving prime-time lineup ( CSI , CSI: Miami , CSI: Poughkeepsie ), but he doesn’t want to overdo the hype, à la what MSNBC did during what Mr. Bass called its ” Donahue adventure.” (The Donahue hype paid off in a whopper opening night for ol’ Cottontop, but then his ratings promptly fell off a cliff.)

Mr. Bass said he’d prefer to take it a little slower, and try not to put too much focus on the new Early Show ‘s debut, set for Oct. 28.

“We have a great plan in place to promote the show,” he said. As for Mr. Smith, the CBS expat said he’s game for setting his alarm clock for the wee, wee hours again. “All I needed was six years,” Mr. Smith said, referring to the time he last hauled himself out of bed in the middle of the night.

Mr. Smith, of course, was something of a surprise pick, but Mr. Bass said it was the former’s impressive, ratings-boosting fill-in during the summer that made executives take a longer look at their former employee. Harry Nation, of course, hasn’t been dormant-Mr. Smith’s been on Biography now for years-and viewers sent e-mails boosting his candidacy. Mr. Smith was modest about the surge: “Five more people watched or something.”

But he had fun, and now he’s back, though in a far spiffier set than the cave at 57th and 11th that he and Paula Zahn used to inhabit back in their CBS Morning days. Mr. Bass said the reports that the show will skew toward harder news than its competitors are somewhat overcooked-it’s not going to be MacNiel/Lehrer , but it’s not going to be The View , either.

“We’re first and foremost a news program,” Mr. Bass said, but he added that the show could do more to enliven its broadcast, including to better utilize its heavily traversed plaza outside the G.M. building at 59th and Fifth.

Mr. Bass, a former Today show producer, didn’t want to get into the tumult that’s been occurring lately at his old shop, where executive producer Jonathan Wald was just jettisoned for ABC producer Tim Touchet. He said only, “I think it’s a time of great opportunity in the morning.”

That goes for you, too, Diane and Charlie! Today on the Early Show, Ira Joe Fisher struts by the window dressed as the F.A.O. Schwarz bear. [WCBS, 2, 7 a.m.]

Friday, Oct. 18

As if on a mission to prove there is no such thing as institutional memory, some folks at Yale University recently invited former VH1 Pop-Up Video co-creator/lunatic Tad Low to return to his alma mater to speak at a Master’s Tea. Mr. Low, you might remember, has had a fractious relationship with his old school-in particular New York’s Yale Club, which briefly booted him a few years back for lobbing crudités at a school choral group, the Wiffenpoofs, when they sang at the club.

Yale student and recent Observer intern Lucas Hanft attended Mr. Low’s triumphant return at the Master’s Tea, and reported that the TV maestro wanted to convince the young ‘uns they all didn’t have to go work for J.P. Morgan and McKinsey. “If I make enough cash, I’d establish a foundation to buy up ads in college newspapers around graduation time to counteract the ads made by investment banks,” Mr. Low said. “The ads would say “Don’t do it. You don’t have to go that route.'”

Mr. Low, who clearly hasn’t gone “that route,” seemed thrilled about his tea-time invite. “I thought of this event as a victory lap,” he said. “It’s a vindication. I took down some of the posters for the event that were up on campus and put them on the wall of my office.”

Tonight on VH1, a repeat of The Sam & Dave Show: Life After Van Halen . We watched this the other day and realized what we’d pretty much known all along: They both suck. [VH1, 19, 10:30 p.m.]

Saturday, Oct. 19

Tonight, Senator John McCain hosts Saturday Night Live . Hey, you SNL- ers, let that lame-ass Chevy Chase roast a couple of weeks ago be a warning to you: be nice to your co-workers! You, too, Senator McCain. [WNBC, 4, 11:35 p.m.]

Sunday, Oct. 20

Tonight on Fox, it’s Game Two of the World Series featuring the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees. Oh, wait-no, no, those are the Anaheim Angels! [WNYW, 5, 7:30 p.m.]

Monday, Oct. 21

New York Post television writer Adam Buckman-who’s sunk his fangs into many a dumbass TV show in his day-felt the pain of cancellation himself the other day when radio station WOR euthanized his and Bert Gould’s eclectic Friday-night TV yapfest, The TV Guys .

Mr. Buckman was sanguine about the show’s end-“We’re not angry about it,” he wrote in an e-mail-but he was proud of his and Mr. Gould’s 12-week run on the airwaves, which included a rare chat with hard-to-land genius Larry David.

“I have no idea how many people listened,” Mr. Buckman wrote. “We don’t have that kind of data. But the five call lights on the studio phone would light up about 10 minutes into the show and stay that way for two hours-which was very gratifying.”

Somewhere, a bitter TV executive skewered by Mr. Buckman is laughing. But don’t get too cocky-this guy still has his typewriter.

Tonight on Bravo, Bill Zehme chats up Tracey Ullman on Second City Presents . What’s with all these cross-platforming showbiz writers? We watched Mr. Zehme interview Jim Belushi the other night, and he looked like he wanted to hit himself in the face with a hubcap. [BRAVO, 38, 9 p.m.]

Tuesday, Oct. 22

Tonight on Fox, Game Three of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees-we mean Anaheim Angels. Nope, this joke never gets old. Viva Bobby Valentine! [WNYW, 5, 8 p.m.]