Monday, July 14, 2003

America to watch family pick mate for Glendale dad

TV romance: 'You have to trust your kids a lot'

Let's start with a reality check: The father America sees tonight on NBC's Who Wants To Marry My Dad? summer reality series isn't exactly the Don Mueller known by his Mass Marketing Inc. employees in Fairfield.

He doesn't own a red Ferrari convertible. (He drives a black Range Rover.)

He doesn't live in a California mansion, with a six-car garage and in-ground pool. (His Glendale home has a two-car garage and a hot tub.)

But behind those wire-rim sunglasses on his sexy clean-shaven head is a sensitive ladies' man with old-fashioned, romantic values.

Don Mueller, center, and his children Joe, 26; Chris, 22; Karla, 25; and Heide 21.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
"I've been told that I'm very respectful, and I like to consider myself a gentleman," says Mueller, 48, who agreed to let his four grown children, ages 21-26, pick a mate for him on the five-week TV series debuting 10 p.m. today (Channels 5, 22).

The spinoff from Meet My Folks, in which parents select dates for their children, was taped in May in Los Angeles.

"I could never walk in front of a lady. I don't like it when someone sits down and the gentleman doesn't hold the chair for the lady, or if he doesn't get up when she gets up. Just some basic stuff," says Mueller, who has been divorced for 13 years.

The kids on the show are real, too. Very real.

Joe, 26, Karla, 25, Chris, 22, and Heidi, 21, all come across as very intelligent, well-spoken, attractive and responsible siblings committed to picking the perfect partner for pop. (NBC says the show ends Aug. 11 with a marriage proposal.)

In the premiere, the kids select 12 women in their 30s and 40s - a nurse, model, full-time moms and 1986 Miss USA Christy Fichtner (who beat out Halle Berry for the crown). All the women - plus the five Muellers - lived together in the Los Angeles area mansion.

In fact, Who Wants to Marry My Dad? is as much about the Mueller kids - all Landmark Christian School graduates - as it is about dad. So the show could become the summer's elusive reality TV hit by appealing to the 18-34 viewers, as well as women and men ages 25-54.

"The producers told me that they liked my family because of the mixed gender, boy-girl-boy-girl," says Mueller, a Sharonville native and 1973 Princeton High School graduate. He dropped out of college after a quarter and started a map-printing business at age 22.

"I like to say, they really wanted my family, but they got stuck with me! And that's the truth!"

In his free time, Mueller likes to play golf, attend shows at Music Hall or the Aronoff Center, and dine at the city's finest restaurants. He doesn't watch reality TV, though he's familiar with it. Many of his 120 employees participate in Survivor and Big Brother office pools.

"They'll probably have a pool on this one, as well," he says.

Mueller had never seen Meet My Folks, NBC's reality series in which parents use lie-detector tests to screen dates for their son or daughter. He still hasn't.

"I asked them to send me some tapes from Meet My Folks, and they started laughing. They said, 'Are you kidding me? We want you green as a banana!' They liked the fact that I didn't have much knowledge."

But his kids do. Mueller was "discovered" by NBC because his daughters are hooked on reality TV, particularly The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. When ABC held a casting call for those shows here on April 6, Karla insisted that Heidi, a part-time model, try out.

As the Muellers tell it, Heidi made the pool for another ABC show, Rich Guy, Poor Guy. But she backed out because of its Fear Factor-type stunts.

"I just wanted to meet people and make some connections," says Heidi, a Liberty University senior who has modeled for Kenwood Towne Centre. "I wasn't ready to meet somebody on TV and fall in love, or anything like that."

And dad was?

"Yeah, well, he's been single (going on) 13 years," she says with a laugh.

Heidi kept in touch with the casting director, who asked lots of questions about her family. When the casting director called Mueller, he figured the guy wanted to date Heidi.

"He called me one day out of the blue, and we just started talking," Mueller recalls. "He said, 'Just for fun, can you send me a picture of your family?' It seemed awkward to me, but I did. That's how it all started."

On the first weekend in May, four weeks after Heidi's audition here, the Muellers were flying to LA to tape the show. "It was unbelievable," he says.

Tonight on Marry My Dad, after a corny opening showing the kids canvassing Southern California for contestants, viewers will see the siblings studiously trying to find a prospective stepmother, with the help of the Meet My Folks lie-detector operator.

Cameras capture the kids' candid discussions about which woman would be most compatible with their father. Later they consult with dad, but the final decision rests with the kids.

"You have to trust your kids a lot," he says. "I trust them implicitly."

Is there a Glendale wedding in the near future? Mueller's contract prohibits him from revealing any details. All he will say is that the two finalists "are just remarkable women." He told another publication that he "met some wonderful people, and I hope there will be some new long-lasting friendships."

The Muellers, however, don't think the national TV exposure will cause any long-lasting disruptions in their lives. They can't image attracting the attention that Survivor participant Rodger Bingham experienced.

"I don't think that's going to happen," says Joe, who works in PNC Bank's Northgate office. Adds Heidi: "I don't think anyone will really care."

Producers have told them that 15 million people could watch the show. NBC's For Love or Money drew 12.8 million last Monday.

"Maybe I'm being a little naìve," says TV's newest bachelor father, "but I don't think things are going to change much at all."

Don Mueller

Born: Jan. 10, 1955. Raised in Sharonville.

Family: Four children: Joe, 26; Karla Barela, 25; Chris, 22; Heidi, 21. Divorced 13 years ago from Pamela, who remarried 10 years ago. "She's been real encouraging about the whole thing," he says.

Residence: Glendale.

Education: 1973 Princeton High School graduate. Varsity swimmer. Dropped out of University of Cincinnati after fall of 1973.

Occupation: Owner and president of Fairfield's Mass Marketing Inc., which prints and sells city and county maps. Employs 120 people. Began the company in 1977, at age 22, with eight employees.

Meet the Mueller kids

Joe, 26: Works in PNC Bank's Northgate office. Graduate of Landmark Christian School and Liberty University (on a baseball scholarship), Lynchburg, Va.

Karla Barela, 25: Only one of the four who has married. Lives in Glendale with husband, Nick Barela, and son, Cole, 10 months. Working (part-time) at dad's Mass Marketing Inc. in Fairfield. Graduate of Landmark Christian School and Liberty University.

Chris, 22: Senior studying broadcasting (on a baseball scholarship) at Liberty University. Graduate of Landmark Christian School.

Heidi, 21: Senior studying psychology at Liberty University. Has done part-time modeling for Kenwood Towne Centre, Crest WhiteStrips, Krombholz Jewelers, Mitchell Salon & Day Spa.



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