A local woman's unorthodox approach to matchmaking has landed her a TV deal for a reality series expected to debut on cable this spring -- with her sometimes harsh honesty and area singles playing starring roles.
Cameras will begin filming next week, following Patti Lindner Novak as she coaches the lovelorn, using the same techniques she uses with clients of her Town of Tonawanda dating service, Buffalo Niagara Introductions.
Casting for local singles willing to go on the show, tentatively being called "Patti Novak: America's Toughest Matchmaker," runs from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in Buffalo's Shanghai Red's restaurant.
The show will chronicle the matching of 26 local people, said Jerry Kolber, a New York City freelance producer. He was hired by the Sharp Entertainment company, which was commissioned to do the show
by the A&E Network.
"Together we laugh, we cry, and I send them home," said Novak of her philosophy at work with singles.
For the next few months, the Buffalo-based crew will document Novak's matchmaking approach in 13 episodes. The idea is to uncover love-blocking problems that singles may not realize they have -- from not knowing how to meet people to poor dating conversation skills.
"A lot of people having trouble dating are having trouble dating because they have some underlying issue," said Kolber, who worked as a producer on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." He called Novak "a character that you couldn't even write what comes out of her mouth. Really what makes this show is Patti."
Novak's methods -- telling people they need to lose weight, get a haircut or buy cooler looking clothes -- is a focus of the show.
Novak says she has told clients she will not be able to match them with men who look like male models in the magazines. She has also asked people to buy new glasses, trim sideburns and stop dressing like a "biker."
Some are charmed by her candor. One 46-year-old client was amused when she asked him if he was inappropriately expecting dates with a "skinny 20-year-old."
Buffalo and its suburbs will be an asset, too, said Kolber. He has been admiring the old buildings and easy conversations he has had with waitresses and others he has met here.
"This is a cool place. It's a place a lot of people don't know anything about," he said. "The people here feel like the people in a small town."
The proposed show, with a working title of "Patti Novak. America's Toughest Matchmaker," was well received by focus groups who saw a short pilot version.
That episode revealed how one woman didn't do well on dates because she was jealous of her daughter's youth and beauty.
"We had the daughter pay a surprise visit on the date," said Novak, who counseled more friendship between them. "Learn how to love each other and respect each other. Understand each other's weaknesses. We all have them."
The idea for the show began with a profile about Novak published in The Buffalo News in November 2003. Boston-based producer and Buffalo native Penny Benatovich read it, put a test interview on a DVD and pitched the show using her contacts.
"From there it was handed over through A&E and through a lot of hands," said Novak of the three-year process.
Now that a full-fledged TV production is about to begin, she admits she is nervous. What if people don't like her or her show?
"It's scary. I mean there's some excitement, but there's some nervousness," said Novak, 44. "It's about a lot of my character, and that's up to scrutiny."
Novak was single herself a few years ago, and now, with a glittering diamond on her ring finger, she doesn't want to discuss her love life. There will be time for that later, she said. She would rather focus on matchmaking.
She said she is working with a few hundred clients now. Only those who ask or come through by casting will be considered for the show.
Those interested can call 212-784-7774, or e-mail -- email@example.com.
The former weight-loss program saleswoman said she is proud of the success she has had since she trained with a national dating service chain and then went into business for herself in 2001.
She has a scrapbook of thank-you notes and photos from more than a dozen client weddings.
An invitation in maroon script to one couple's February nuptials sat on her desk Tuesday morning as she talked about the show.
The pair's romance included some of the classic pitfalls Novak counsels against.
At first, the woman talked a lot about some family problems, which had made the man leery about going out again. "She said too much on the first date," Novak said.
For the early dates, Novak advises focusing conversation on the interests of the other person.
But she also urges people to try a second date if there was any hint of physical or emotional attraction.
When the man in question called three months later to say he couldn't stop thinking about the woman, Novak set up another meeting that led to their eventual engagement.
"I said, 'Yeah, I thought you were crazy not to see her,' " she said. "Some people just don't know how to date."