“For us, the basic dating format doesn’t work,” TLC general manager Amy Winter said today at the TCA Summer TV Press Tour, by way of explaining the network’s Secret Princes. TLC — which owns the bridal-dress, people-with-too-many-babies, Momzillas, and weird-obsessions programming threads — also wants to own the dating-show genre. It’s got its work cut out, what with ABC’s The Bachelor and The Bachelorette so well established in that space, among other dating shows. But TLC persevered and came up with Secret Princes — one of those wonderful TLC series that leave you wondering if Man really is Nature’s Last Word. It’s a dating show in which the dating is the least interesting thing going on. It’s actually a pampered fish-out-of-water series in which four guys who purport to be “international royalty” (in much the same way as Fox defined Rick Rockwell as a multimillionaire) leave their native land, come to the U.S., take jobs dressing up as a tomato or something equally ridiculous, and pick up women. At the end of each season, the women they’ve culled from the herd are informed of their titles, and that money (if any). Then everyone waits to see if the women draw themselves up to their full height and give it to the guys in the neck — American women being notorious for their distaste for wealth and titles.

Things got testy at TCA when a critic called the show malarkey and demanded to know how many of the guys onstage were still in relationships with the women they’d pursued. “Do you have another question?” Winter asked. Another critic seemed suspicious that women who had no problem being followed around on their dates by reality TV series cameras would have issues with the guys having misrepresented themselves — imposters being one of the basics of reality TV. Secret Lord Robert Walters insisted there was the very real chance a woman would be outraged because “of the fact you lied about it.” And Secret Honorable Oliver Plunkett hinted that the women were not told the cameras were involved in producing a reality TV series — they were told the cameras had  “something to do with the university.” So they were really gullible women.

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