By Lori Acken
On the eve of Ashley Hebert’s final rose ceremony — be there a proposal or not — we continue our recent conversation with Bachelorette host Chris Harrison about the ups and downs and way, waaaaaay out there’s of putting together America’s most beloved matchmaker TV, why the success of The Bachelor franchise may have signaled the end of the daytime drama and why he’s feel so game about a possible new project.
CG: Since you have a front-row seat, can you give me your perspective on how the shows — and the contestants — have most changed over the seasons?
CH: It’s been incredibly interesting to watch over the past ten years how it’s evolved, how people have evolved, relationships, the show … even technology and how that’s changed our culture.
When we started ten years ago, there was no such thing as texting, a blog, Twitter, Facebook. None of that existed and the show was so different, and the fans’ perspective was so different. Now our show is almost 100% interactive with the fans and the blogs. I mean it’s really interesting how much has evolved since we’ve been on the air.
Look at Twitter. Tonight thousands and thousands of people will be tweeting — I usually tweet live and people will follow along and send me messages and ask questions and it’s completely changed the scope of TV where you are interacting as the show is on. That’s never been done before.
CG: Clearly, as the seasons go on — this one especially — plenty of good-looking single people figured out that landing a spot on The Bachelor or Bachelorette is an excellent way to get their 15 or more moments of fame. How do you weed out the ones who are obviously attention seekers … and how many of them do you keep aboard for the sake of good TV?
CH: The great thing about our show — and this great for TV and for our producers — is that it’s not really up to us to weed anybody out at all. I mean, obviously at this point in reality TV, not everybody is there with the best intentions. But our show has never been predicated on making sure everybody is Mother Theresa. So there’s the whole idea of the show — there’s no catch. There never has been. It’s not a game show, so it’s up to you to figure out is this person there for the right reasons, is this person using me, are they just here for the fame? But that’s the same situation that every man and woman has every day when they meet somebody at a bar or at church or wherever. Is this person using me for my money? Does this person just want to sleep with me? So it’s really kind of a real-world situation and that’s what works for us.
And I think a lot of people even come on for the adventure of it. I think if you went back and asked Roberto, he’d say, “Look, I came on it for the adventure and if I met a great girl, great, but if not, at least I got to travel the world.” And he found the love of his life in Ali and they’re going to get married. I think there’s a lot of stories like that. But then there’s other stories where people came on with the best of intentions, but the fame got to them and then they turned into fame whores or media seekers. You never know. You just never know.
CG: A number of the cast members have turned into bona fide TV characters in their own right — for better or worse. Or fact or fiction.
CH: I was talking to Michelle Money a while ago and she said, “You know what’s really funny, Chris, is that people talk to me out in public and they ask about my character. It’s really weird to have a real life and also been seen as a character. So back to the idea of social behavior, it’s also the social behavior of our fans.
CG: And there are contestants like your former Bachelor Pad cohost Melissa Rycroft-Strickland and Jillian Harris who have kept a public profile and have not embarrassed themselves or betrayed their values in the slightest.
CH: Yeah, you look at Jillian and some of these people play it really smart — but like you said, that’s them. The show didn’t change them. And the show didn’t change Melissa. She kept on being the down home sweet girl and that’s what everybody fell in love with. If she would have turned into this ginormous egomaniac diva then American would have turned on her. Same thing with Jillian – she’s just this sweet little Canadian girl and keeps bopping along and doing her thing and it’s worked for her and people still embrace that because she’s being true to herself. It’s the people who change, again like Jake, who get a little big for their britches — and you can just tell the way they talk and the way they Facebook and Twitter and all of that. You’re like, “Are you kidding me?”
When I do red carpet stuff and TV Guide stuff, it’s never the big, big superstars that are the divas and that you have trouble with. They’re not the ones who come in with five agents and whatever. It’s the people in the middle. A lot of times, it’s these pseudo reality stars who come in with an agent and talk to my lawyer and then talk to my publicist and then talk to my this .. it’s like they have a team of people. They don’t have a job. But they have a team of people. And they have to fly first class and they need limos and it cracks me up. They get a taste of this and they think that’s the way it is. But that’s not the way real stars act — it really isn’t. The bigger the star, the less people who usually show up with them.
CG: You are the psychologist/confidante/voice of reason for all of these shows – do you honestly bond with each bachelors and bachelorette, or do you find yourself occasionally in the position of wanting to throw up your hands and say, “Oh for the love of God …”? Have any gone on to become your friends away from the show?
CH: It depends. Some of these people I’ve become really good friends with and they’ve become dear friends after the show and I talk to them quite a bit. Others, I’m friendly with and after the show, I’ll see them at events and stuff like that. So it just depends on the person. You know, even this season with Ashley this season, I care about her and what she’s going through and I feel a little protective at times sometimes. Especially of the Bachelorettes when they’re going through something like people who are taking advantage of them and I try to protect them as much as possible. Ashley, for sure. We’ve had a lot of conversations. I mean, we’ve flown together around the world and she sat across from me and the producers and we all sit up there and talk about stuff, from my family and real life things, but we also deal with the show off-camera what’s going on.
But I definitely get into the characters and what is going on, for sure.
CG: A lot of folks have said all the world travel has made the show even more unrealistic, because anyone can fall in love with a reasonable attractive person in an outrageously beautiful place. Do you agree?
CH: Not at all. If anything, I think it’s enhanced it, because getting out and away creates a better atmosphere for falling in love. I think if you look at Ashley’s dates, the one in Cheng Mai and even Phuket where there were street dates and just hanging around — or the orphanage date — these aren’t extravagant exotic dates. I mean they’re in beautiful places you might never go but in the end it’s still just Ben and Ashley walking through the streets of Cheng Mai, you know what I mean?
What I think the travel has added is just that extra character. And I think our show has kind of been the demise of the modern day soap opera and the added travel and exotic locations just adds to that escapism and people enjoy sitting down and getting away on Monday nights.
If you look at our show and how it’s evolved — you and I were talking about that earlier — what would happen three years ago is we would end our show and we would maybe talk to People magazine. And People would say, “We would like to have the couple on our cover,” and we would do a photo shoot — and there would be Trista and Ryan, or Ali and Roberto, and that would be the end of it. And maybe if they broke up there would be another article a little bit later. But that would be about it.
Now our show never leaves the pages of the tabloids. It is one yearlong, 52-weeks a year kind of telenovela soap opera. And you continue to hear about Ali and Roberto, and Jason and Molly, and all these characters continue to evolve and exist even off our show. People are fascinated with it. So why would you continue to watch “insert soap opera here” when they’re just fake characters and fake storylines and they keep going on for 30 years when instead you have these real life characters?”
CG: So, then, to play Devils Advocate, what happens when something comes down the line that renders The Bachelor obsolete? What are Chris Harrison’s future plans?
CH: If and when this franchise hands out its final rose, I look forward to continuing my hosting duties and hope to stay with the family I’ve been with for a decade at ABC. I’m currently waiting to hear good news on a game show pilot I shot for ABC called You Deserve It. It’s a great, feel-good game show that I’m very excited about and proud to be a part of. Beyond my hosting duties I will continue to expand my production company “Harrison Productions,” as I love to produce good television as much as I enjoy hosting it!