Lovely for Newton

Newton calls itself "the Heart of Catawba County."

The city now hopes it can enter the hearts of television producers who plan to film a matchmaking reality show in one of America's small towns.

Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and BBC Worldwide Productions are considering Newton among about 40 towns as possible locations for "Lovetown USA," a show about an expert team of matchmakers who will guide single people on quests for love in a small community over a 30-day period. The network will select a town with a population of about 15,000 residents, a "storybook, picturesque" location and a strong sense of community, according to a release from BBC Worldwide Productions.

"We are looking for a real community spirit," producers said in the release. "From local business owners to the mayor, librarian, basketball coach, everyone in our chosen town is in it for love."

City leaders were first contacted earlier this week about Newton being a possible setting for the show, said Anne Stedman, the current mayor pro-tem and a candidate for mayor.

"I could only speculate, but it could have something to do with the heart on our water tower," Stedman said. "I think it would be a real shot in the arm for Newton to be selected. I can't even imagine the excitement it would generate and the people who would want to be a part of it."

Sharon Rashidi, owner of The Perfect Workout in downtown Newton, said TV producers also contacted her with questions about the community.

"They called me," Rashidi said. "They thought it was unusual that we had such a fancy gym in such a small town."

Rashidi said TV producers have already narrowed down the list of cities to 20.

Producers say they will select a city for the show based on the population and community criteria and based on the town that gets the most single people to nominate it and apply to participate in the show.

"We're trying to get the word out to as many singles as possible to fill out a very lengthy application," Stedman said. "They're asking for vital information, name, address and telephone number. They ask questions about your previous relationships, your community. They even ask for your shirt and pant sizes."

Rashidi said producers indicated to her that singles can just submit a photo and basic information via e-mail to nominate Newton and apply to participate in the show.

Stedman said TV producers asked Newton officials about the town to learn about the community, including questions about diversity.

"We've won a national award for diversity for Unity Day, an annual event that, through song and dance, brings diverse groups together," she said. "I told them we are diverse."

Producers say they will narrow down their list of cities to 10 next week. They did not include a specific list of competing towns in a release about the show. Producers did not return calls Friday seeking more details.

Nominations and applications are due by Tuesday.