By Hillary Busis
April 10, 2013 at 06:28 PM EDT

NBC shuffled Smash offstage for this?

Though it benefited from both heavy promotion and having The Voice as a lead-in, the Peacock’s new dating show Ready for Love seems fairly dead on arrival. Its two-hour series premiere was the lowest-rated program in both the 9 and 10 p.m. time slots last night, earning just 3.8 million viewers and a 1.6 rating among adults 18-49. (To be fair, the show did beat Smash‘s last-Tuesday episode, which garnered 3.0 million viewers and a .9 demo rating.)

This makes Ready for Love the latest example of a truth that broadcast networks — especially NBC — may be reluctant to admit: Copying The Voice‘s format just doesn’t seem to work.  ABC tried with the little-watched Duets, which nicked its predecessor’s “mentors” gimmick, and The Taste, which built a show around a series of blind taste-tests; Fox gave it a whirl with the little-loved dating series The Choice; NBC itself first tried to cannibalize its biggest ratings success with Fashion Star, a competition now relegated to Fridays. It’s not enough to simply feature a panel of expert mentors (Ready for Love enlists a team of three professional matchmakers) and a judging process that’s at least partially blind (male contestants initially choose women without getting to see them): Those experts have to have chemistry, and those contestants have to be captivating enough to hold our interest even after the metaphorical chairs turn around.

Ready for Love, though, is more than just an unholy mashup of The Bachelor and The Voice. The fingerprints of several successful franchises can be seen smudging its surface: The shiny, shiny set and presence of a live audience recall game shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Deal or No Deal. Contestants get interrogated by their “mentors” while sitting together onstage like a group of reunited Real Housewives. Tough-talking matchmaker Tracy McMillan, while entertaining, may as well have been assembled from stray bits of Simon Cowell and Jillian Michaels’ DNA.

So despite producer Eva Longoria’s claims that Ready for Love is a revolutionary program that will forever change the way women are humiliated on television — or something — its “innovations” are just recycled parts. And while those parts — the mentors, the live audience, the great glass elevators that transport contestants from the stage to a mysterious subterranean area called “the garden” — may help to differentiate Ready for Love from The Bachelor and other dating shows, they’re also precisely what prevents the show from connecting with audiences.

After all, The Bachelor has a format that can be explained in a sentence… and though its track record as a matchmaking service is iffy, to say the least, it’s stuck around for a staggering 17 seasons and shows no signs of slowing down. Ready for Love, on the other hand, employs a bunch of bells and whistles that make the show much more complicated than it needs to be — and end up seeming beside the point once you realize that neither the bachelors (the guy from Plain White T’s? Seriously) nor the contestants are all that compelling. Though I was happy to learn from it that as a woman, I shouldn’t bother speaking on a date unless it’s to say something “sexy, or sensual, or from [my] heart.” Now that‘s leaning in.

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