In a white room resembling limbo, a man or a woman waits for a stranger to walk in, share a kiss and then leave. It’s either an outtake from “Twin Peaks” or a new reality show, “Love at First Kiss,” premiering Wednesday at 10 p.m. on TLC.
“Unbelievably awkward and strangely compelling,” observes Bennett Graebner, an executive producer of the new series, based on a Netherlands show of the same name — in English, even — that ran Oct. 14 to Dec. 16, 2014, produced for the nation’s youth-oriented public broadcaster, BNN. “Just watching two strangers kiss,” he muses, “is really bizarre.”
So is listening to it, with all its squishy sounds. But Graebner, 45, a veteran producer on “The Bachelor” and its spinoffs, says even jaded production crew members found it absorbing. “We would watch on the monitors and the entire crew, anyone who wasn’t actually shooting it, like the grips or the woman who works on craft services, would rush in to watch people kiss. People would have little side bets,” he says, “about whether the man or the woman would want to follow up” with a two-minute speed date in another room. If that went well, the couple could go on a filmed date in Los Angeles, where the show — originally announced as a fall 2015 series for VH1 — is made.
The matchups didn’t all go the way producers expected, Graebner says. “With one woman, the guy turned the corner and he’s quite good-looking and a nice guy, and I’d thought, ‘Oh, they’ll really like each other. Good-looking pair, their personalities match up.’ He walked up and she just said no. And that was certainly a blow to his ego and a little surprising to us.”
Having better luck, he says, was “one guy with Asperger’s who works in educating people on Asperger’s. I don’t think he was particularly interested in being on television, but he saw it as a social experiment and he was interested in meeting someone. He kissed a woman and he said, ‘It’s really hard for me because I can’t read social cues.’ You think, ‘Wow, he’s a guy with Asperger’s and he’s not going to really know if she’s into it or not.’ But he found love on that show.”
Graebner himself, a Vassar grad who hails from Buffalo, is married to a woman from Los Angeles — “my college roommate’s younger sister.” So how did his own first kiss with her go? “My first kiss was great — and it took my college roommate about a decade to get over it!”