Decoder Ring

Decoder Ring: “Videomate: Men”

Dating via VHS tape was the future, until it wasn’t.

Illustration of a VHS tape on a colorful '80s background with squiggles and palm leaves.
Benjamin Frisch

Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every month, host Willa Paskin takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to try and figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters.

“Videomate: Men” was a VHS tape released in 1987 featuring 60 single men pitching themselves as dates to women on the other side of the TV screen: “The love of your life could be on your TV tonight!” the box reads. In retrospect, “Videomate: Men” is a bizarre and hilarious time capsule, but at the time it was one of many manifestations of what was known as video dating. To find out how anyone thought this was a good idea, Decoder Ring examines the weird and forgotten world of video dating in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s to find out why video dating once seemed like the future—and if that future is still yet to come.

On this episode, we talk to the creators of the Found Footage Festival, VHS collectors who unleashed Videomate on the internet; ask the creators of video dating services like Videomate’s Steve Dworman and Great Expectations’ Jeffrey Ullman what they were thinking; and talk to participants who used these services but not necessarily in the way that was intended. We’ll also discuss the future of video dating with Coffee Meets Bagel co-founder Dawoon Kang and host of the Longest Shortest Time Andrea Silenzi.

Links and further reading on some of the things we discussed on the show:

• The Found Footage Festival’s edit of “Videomate: Men”
• Great Expectations infomercial
• Julie Ferman’s Los Angeles Matchmaking
• Tim and Eric’s dating video sketch
• Mad TV’s “Lowered Expectations” sketch
• Coffee Meets Bagel’s video dating feature
• Andrea Silenzi’s podcast Longest Shortest Time

Email: decoderring@slate.com
Twitter: @willapaskin

This episode was written by Willa Paskin and edited and produced by Benjamin Frisch.