by Mark Hadley

It was W.S. Gilbert, the first half of the famous musical duo Gilbert and Sullivan, who first observed, “It’s love that makes the world go round.” He might have penned the line for the comic opera Iolanthe but the sentiment is anything but a laughing matter. Humans often live and have frequently died in the name of this compelling state, but are we any closer to understanding it? We’ve had a 133 years to contemplate Gilbert’s words and the entertainment media still have no trouble creating worlds that turn on love of some kind. But, to borrow another songwriter’s phrase, one look at this year’s television schedule suggests we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.

It’s not the first year that Australian television networks have gambled on love making the ratings go round. We’ve become quite used to a range of programming from straight reality TV to the quasi-scientific investigating what goes in to what we call love. The Nine Network is currently airing its ninth season of Farmer Wants A Wife, suggesting love is perennially capable of crossing the city-country divide. In May Nine will also bring back a second and possibly third season of Married At First Sight in May, where contestants say, “I do” and then work out whether that’s enough to keep them together. Not to be caught napping, Network Ten has started its fourth season of The Bachelor, the show where a harem of potential wives are offered to an eligible man who goes on a series of intimate dates till he discovers the one who pleases him best. The broadcaster has also committed to a second season of The Bachelorette in 2016, where the roles are reversed but the selection process is largely the same. Even the good old ABC has got in on the act, surpassing replacing past series like Making Couples Happy with comedy investigations like Luke Warm Sex. However it’s the Seven Network that seems to be most committed to love.

In 2016 Seven is introducing three new series that each push a perspective on love, and so colour the way we search for it. First off the block this year has been First Dates. Men and women in search of quality partners agree to go on a blind date under the glow of the cameras in Seven’s First Date Restaurant. The staff play cupid, doing their best to stir interest and jealousy as newly minted couples get to know each other. The series highlights one of the biggest problems in a society full of fractured social institutions: finding someone. Circus performer Sim says, “It’s been ages since I’ve met a quality man – hopefully I meet one tonight.” In First Dates love is still a word that’s associated with the serious relationship. Now that photographer Reece has sorted his career and passions, he’s keen to settle down. “In terms of dating it’s been a bit of a drought,” Reece says. Love represents an end to the mucking around. “Am I ready for love? Yeah, I think I’m getting there.” What follows episode after episode is the evaluation: what does this prospective partner bring to the table? Are they good looking? Do they have a steady job? Will they match my personality? Love through the lens of First Dates is a result of carefully sifting through the choices to discover the perfect fit.

If romance fails to find love then Seven is hoping that desperation will serve. Later this year the network will release the Australian version of Seven Year Switch. The producers of the original American series assert a that,

“Seven years marks a point in many marriages when couples find themselves restless and dissatisfied; and some even wonder what it would be like if they had picked a different spouse.”

What follows is a format where four couples agree to an upgraded version of Wife Swap where they move into a new home and share the bed of someone who isn’t their partner. The hope is these ‘experimental marriages’ will rekindle the magic the original couples once shared – or start something new altogether. This ‘switch therapy’ is pitched as a last-ditch effort to save relationships that have reached breaking point. Here love is definitely associated with long-term relationship, but predominantly something that engenders and evokes the right kind of feelings. Wife Michelle says, “I’ve lost every sense of who I am. I feel alone. ” Her husband Jason responds, “If she just came over and kissed me for no reason, that would mean so much to me.” But what sort of feelings will this experiment actually produce? Though trialling a new partner might drive couples back into each other’s arms, Seven Year Switch is still likely to sow seeds of distrust that will be be reaped for years to come.

Seven will place its final bet on the seemingly timeless suggestion that sex gives birth to love. Kiss Bang Love spells out its approach in the title. Ten single Australians will be matched up with 15 potential suitors each – mostly strangers, but a few acquaintances, and former lovers thrown in for good measure. The would-be lover is then blindfolded and kisses each of the prospects. The blindfold comes off for the best five, and the contestant’s final choice will then spend the night with them in a luxury hotel. Seven’s done it’s best to maintain a serious face for what amounts to televised sex by suggesting an unnamed study has found that the average person kisses 15 people and has two one-night stands before falling in love. If this is true then it only underlines Kiss Bang Love’s premise: love requires physical gratification.

According to Seven, love is selective, love is felt – it does not settle for less than satisfaction, so it keeps no record of those it sleeps with along the way. If this philosophy were written up as a novel it would best be titled Love in the Age of Narcissism.