Netflix’s Dating Around feels more raw, intimate, and real than most reality shows that feature dates between strangers.
The show is unscripted, reality television, with five very real blind dates. But that intimacy meant that it was still produced, both in real life and in the editing, which cut between different dates. After all, it’s not very realistic to wear the same clothes and sit at the same table five nights in a row.
So how did the show come together? Was it scripted in any way? Was there a third date for Lex and Cory? Will there be a reunion episode to see if any of the couples are still together? Was it filmed all in one night?
Read on for answers, thanks to Lex Liang, who’s the subject of the third episode and talked to Time magazine, where he offers behind-the-scenes insights.
So do executive producer Chris Culvenor and showrunner Alycia Rossiter, who were interviewed by Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk and discussed creating a format that would give, as Culvenor says, “an honest glimpse of what it’s like to be single in a world of infinite apps and infinite choices.”
Here are highlights from those two interviews.
How was the show cast?
Showrunner Alycia Rossiter told Vulture that “we had to go find people because they didn’t answer the ads. They didn’t put themselves in the box that you tick for a dating show.” She added:
“Casting was really hard because we were looking for people who wouldn’t normally do this, and that doesn’t just mean people that might not trust an outfit like Netflix. It was also people who weren’t looking for attention. Or people who don’t see faces like their own on TV.”
Lex was acutely aware of this—and that the diversity of the cast was the point.
He told Time that he was cast because he knows the owner of the casting company The House that Casting Built, and says he told her, “Listen: I will do this and meet your diversity quota, because I’m pretty sure that’s why you’re asking me to do this.”
When Lex says he told her, “What do I have to offer? I don’t look like that dude—I don’t race cars,” he says the the casting producer replied, “That’s exactly why I’m asking you.”
While Lex says he did it just for fun, he’s also aware of how important representation is, even on silly dating shows:
“I don’t think the gravity of what we’re talking about in terms of representation ever really landed. The whole experience was just sort of an experiment that I thought would be fun to do. But the only thing we can do is to keep that exposure high so that people are so used to seeing a black person with a Latina person, with a white person, with a trans person, with an Asian person, so that it’s no big deal.”
Did the show try to find perfect matches?
Nope. This was not produced like Married at First Sight, which at least tries to match compatible people.
Rossiter, who has previously produced for The Bachelor franchise and season two of American Grit, told Vulture, “I didn’t want to matchmake on this show.”
Instead, she said, “I asked our daters to just trust meeting a stranger. … I guess I’m a little bit old-school.”
How long did it take to film?
More than one night, but less than one week. The dates were filmed over five consecutive nights, one new date each night.
Each date took eight to 10 hours to film, so that’s potentially 50 hours in five days for the episode’s star, whether that was Lex, Gurki, Leonard, Luke, Sarah, or Mila.
Lex describes it to Time like this:
“we would shoot for eight to 10 hours, from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. I would meet somebody for like an hour and we would do drinks and then they would reset. We would go away and take a break or the bartender would bring me another cocktail.”
Lex’s shoot was particularly taxing because he worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day that week because he couldn’t give up a week of work, as the producers suggested.
Rossiter told Vulture that “Most people can’t go on five dates in five nights and still handle the regularities of their everyday life.”
Did the producers coach the daters?
A little, yes.
Rossiter told Vulture that the production was hands-off: “We stood back, we put cameras on a table, and we let the conversation and the connection or lack of connection unfold.”
And while Lex says “it wasn’t scripted or specifically directed,” he did note that producers stepped in and “did try to steer it when the ship was off course.”
For a specific example, he said:
“At a certain point, I believe the creator took me aside and said, ‘You’re really good at getting information out of your fellow daters. Tell us a little bit more about you and let yourself be a little vulnerable.’ Which is that conversation between Mic and I. And if I’m being totally honest, I wouldn’t have had that conversation with Mic. Totally sweet guy, but half of what I said went over his head.”
As I was watching, I felt like Lex was asking more questions than he was answering, so it’s interesting they noticed and tried to shift that during production.
How did alcohol affect the dates?
Alcohol is a favorite tool of reality show producers, because—never mind, I don’t have to explain that. That was also true on Dating Around. Here’s Lex:
“I was very drunk. Let’s make that abundantly clear. And I don’t want to say that was encouraged—but that was encouraged.”
“15 to 20 minutes or three or four gins in, I got real comfortable. Also, within five to 10 minutes, I sort of knew that none of these guys was going to be a love connection. But I didn’t want to preclude the evening. So I thought, let’s just have fun with it and see what the actual dynamic is.”
Why aren’t there interviews with the cast members? Were they filmed?
One of the many ways Dating Around differs from other shows is its lack of talking head interviews popping up to explain what we’ve just seen. It’s quite refreshing, and this show makes it clear that they’re not always necessary.
Producers did not film a single interview. Culvenor told Vulture, “That was a real credit to Netflix for trusting us. A lot of other outlets wouldn’t have had that same trust and wouldn’t have taken that risk.”
He did say, however, that they were tempted, but skipped it because it wouldn’t have been true to the dating experience:
“We had to fight that instinct, because we knew that’s the great and terrifying thing about going on a first date. You’re sitting opposite someone, and you might know what they’re saying, but you have no idea what’s going on in their head. To truly capture a dating experience, we wanted to not give the audience that cheat, where you cut away to another day in a private room where they can speak freely. We wanted to stay in those moments.”
How was the crew different?
Eureka Productions’ Chris Culvenor told Vulture that in casting, producers “really wanted to look for people who wouldn’t go on shows like this,” and applied the same mentality to staffing the production:
“…that’s a brush that we painted across every aspect of the show. Even the directors were people who came from more scripted and cinematic background. The way we approached the music wasn’t the traditional reality-show cues. The post-production things were obviously done distinctly different from other shows. Editing in a very nonlinear way — telling a compelling story that made sense while also jumping across five timelines — was really challenging. We were lucky to have an amazing post-production team to help figure out this fantastic jigsaw of all these amazing moments and connections and awkward encounters that have to be pieced together to create a seamless dreamscape of a night.”
Was there a third date for Lex and Cory?
Yep. He went out again with Cory, but says they “kept in touch for a while, but sort of, I call it, mutually disengaged.”
Lex blames his travel schedule for that disconnection.
Will there be a follow-up or reunion episode?
Possibly—though Dating Around’s showrunner doesn’t like the idea, saying it’s “unromantic” and wondering if The Bachelor has affected people’s expectations.
Alycia Rossiter told Vulture:
“Netflix is getting a few people together to talk about what their lives are looking like now that we shot it. But I’m amazed how results-oriented people are in this. I feel partially guilty, like maybe my old job [on The Bachelor] has forced people to think that.
The fact that everybody wants to know what’s happening now, and what’s going on now, it feels so unromantic to me. The show, for me, was about romance and possibility and a moment of connection when you have dinner with one person for one night. Maybe I was unlucky until I found the love of my life, who I’m with now, but a first date to me was never a disappointment if it didn’t end up in a five-year love affair. It was just a wonderful evening, you know? And I’m so interested that so many people are like, ‘What happened? What’s going on? Are they in love?'”