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Reality show tryouts lure area singles

Lynn Fiala feels like she has been looking for love in all the wrong places.

So now she wants help from a woman who will soon make her television debut as "America's toughest matchmaker."

Fiala, a 52-year-old dental hygienist from North Tonawanda, has tough competition. The producers of a new reality series that is expected to debut on the A&E Network this spring already have screened more than 300 local lovelorn residents. Dozens of lonely singles turned out for a casting call Saturday in Shanghai Red's Restaurant on the downtown waterfront.

"I really want to share my life with someone," said Fiala, who divorced 13 years ago. "It's hard, because I don't know where to look."

Michael King, a 36-year-old machine shop worker from West Seneca, can relate.

"When you go out to a bar, everyone is with someone," he said. "It seems like everyone is attached."

King made plans with a buddy to attend Saturday's casting call.

"But he ended up having a date today," King chuckled.

He hopes Patti Lindner Novak will help find his elusive soul mate. The Town of Tonawanda-based Cupid runs Buffalo Niagara Introductions, a dating service. She will be featured in a 13-episode reality series that is tentatively being called "Patti Novak: America's Toughest Matchmaker."

Novak didn't attend Saturday's casting, which was handled by Sharp Entertainment, the company commissioned to do the show. Novak will be involved later in the process, after screeners have narrowed the field of prospects.

The goal is to weed out people who are merely looking to make a splash on national television, said Colleen Conway, an executive producer at A&E.

"We're interested in finding people who are really looking for love," Conway said. "So this isn't a casting call. We're looking for clients for Patti."

People who are ultimately picked should be prepared for some candid encounters. Novak isn't shy about telling people they need to lose weight, change their wardrobes or get a haircut. Some have compared her to television's Judge Judy or even acerbic "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell.

"Wow, she's that tough?" asked Kristy Palumbo, 26, an urban planner who lives in Buffalo and hopes to be on the show.

Candid but compassionate is how Novak's spin doctors describe her.

"She has a very direct style, but she's one of the warmest people I've ever met," Conway said. "It's not like we're sending lambs to slaughter."

Novak's approach doesn't intimidate Robert Schina of North Tonawanda.

"Sometimes you have to be brutally honest," he said. "I just hope she can take as well as she gives. It would make for good TV."

People who took part in Saturday's session filled out questionnaires that asked: "What is your idea of a perfect date" and "If you had to diagnose your dating problem, what would it be?"

The show's producers said they're impressed with the caliber of people they've met at the screenings, which continue from noon to 5 p.m. today in Shanghai Red's.

Deirdre Keeley is a casting agent from Manhattan who has been in Buffalo for about a week. "People are honest. They're open," she said. "It's very refreshing."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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