Mystery Date

Keith Kormanik of Towson can't kiss and tell. But his search for love with TV's 'Bachelorette' goes prime-time tonight.

January 14, 2004|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

Keith Kormanik doesn't look like an average Joe. He's tall, dark and handsome with teeth that are almost too white. He is impeccably dressed - wearing a black-ribbed sweater under a brown suede jacket when we meet for a seafood lunch. I find myself wondering why anyone who looks like this would have to go on a TV show to find love.

But tonight Kormanik, who lives in Towson, will compete with 25 other young men for the affection of Meredith Phillips on ABC's reality show The Bachelorette. The first episode airs at 9, and tonight Phillips will eliminate 10 men, possibly including the 31-year-old Kormanik. After that, she will eliminate one or more men each episode. The program culminates when Phillips bestows a red rose upon one lucky winner who has a chance to become better acquainted with - and perhaps married to - her.

Previous reality-show contestants have landed acting gigs, become authors or, in the case of Phillips, become the star of another reality show. And, of course, Trista (nee Rehn) Sutter and Ryan Sutter, participants who actually chose to marry, became instant celebrities. ABC paid for their multimillion dollar wedding and made it a three-part, prime-time series. Will Phillips choose Kormanik?

"He's a good guy," says Mo Manocheh, the owner of Mo's Fisherman's Wharf, where Kormanik and I dined. The downtown Baltimore restaurant, a Kormanik hangout, was where he first learned (via cell phone) he was a finalist for the show.

"He's good looking, he's smart, he went to college, he's got a good job, he's got tons of girlfriends. I wish I had this problem," said Manocheh. "He loves seafood," Manocheh adds. "All the girls he brings here, they love the seafood, too."

Manocheh has known Kormanik since he was a teen-ager. "The day he's on, all of the televisions in my five restaurants will be on."

Kormanik disputes the charge that he has tons of girlfriends. He says he's had a few serious relationships - but didn't want to discuss his social life.

Reality television is a genre that's increasingly dominating the television landscape at the expense of sitcoms and dramas. The underlying concept is that on reality shows, audiences see real people doing real things. When men are eliminated by the bachelorette we see a human reaction to rejection, not an actor playing a role. Or that, anyway, is the conceptual premise of the genre.

Ratings suggest people - or at least young people - love it. The last Bachelor pulled in an average of 13.68 million viewers per episode. The core audience is women ages 18 to 34, says Jeff Lindsey, ABC's vice president of network research publicity. To put this in context, The West Wing, NBC's hour-long drama in the same time slot about a U.S. president, captures an average 13.1 million viewers.

But, between mouthfuls of seafood bisque, Kormanik explains he didn't want to be on The Bachelorette - at least at first. It turns out his sister-in-law is a big fan of the show - she's seen every episode - and nominated him without his knowledge.

"She'd always tease that she'd do that and I never thought she'd do it till I got the call [from ABC]"

"I thought there was a good possibility to meet someone who is a soul-mate," his sister-in-law Bridget Kormanik says. "I got on the computer and put down the basic information and sent a picture that I had. Knowing Keith - he can be shy, he dedicates a lot of time to work. He doesn't have a lot of time to meet people."

But Kormanik picked up the ball from there, making two videos to send ABC and flying out to Los Angeles in August for an exhaustive three days of personality tests, interviews and medical exams - including an AIDS test. By September, he learned that he'd made the cut.

"A few thousand people applied," says Lacey Pemberton, the casting director for The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. "Keith was really sincere and interested in meeting someone."

An airtight nondisclosure agreement prevents Kormanik from talking too much about the show or his past relationships. He can't say how far along he got in the elimination process. He can't talk about his time with the bachelorette or say much about the setting.

And, in real life, a publicity-shy boss prevents Kormanik from talking about his job as a stock analyst at a small private firm in Baltimore. He says his boss was supportive about letting him leave but concedes he is getting "a bit irritated with this whole thing."

Kormanik did talk about being on the set. "There's cameras everywhere," he says. "How many times have you been in an atmosphere where there are cameras everywhere and you're miked up the whole time you're there? Every word you say, you have to remember there is a microphone in your tie - that's going to make anyone uncomfortable."

ABC also does not want contestants to discuss previous relationships. Or current relationships. Asked about people he's dated, Kormanik replies, "If you don't mind, I don't want to talk about that."

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