This is Part 1 of an exclusive interview with Chris Harrison, host of ABC's The Bachelor. Read Part 2 here.
When I was in Los Angeles in December on my most recent Disney/ABC TV press event, we had the most dramatic blogger brunch ever with “The Bachelor” host Chris Harrison. Chris introduced us to a special preview of Season 20 of “The Bachelor” before and treated us to a Q&A session with him. He'll regaled us with behind-the-scenes tidbits from 20 seasons of “The Bachelor,” everything from drama, love, shenanigans, and more. This is Part 1 of a two-part 1-hour interview with Chris Harrison. Come back next week for Part 2. The Bachelor premieres tonight at 8 pm EST/PST on ABC.
Chatting with Chris was a fun way to start our last day of interviews in LA. While I'm not a huge #BachelorNation fan, I have watched a few seasons I appreciate the show.
Chris joked that our time wouldn't be nearly as excited as the Star Wars pres junket and interviews, but that it would be much more dramatic. Chris gave us about an hour of his day. He was so generous with his time. He didn't care what we asked, he basically gave us a free for all. After 20 seasons and 15 years of “The Bachelor,” he's seen it all.
“I don't care what you ask. I've been here 15 years,” Chris said. “I promise there's nothing out there, nothing I haven't been asked. At this point, I feel secure in my job, I'll pretty much tell you anything.”
Chris talked about Season 20 of “The Bachelor” and how Ben Higgins was an easy choice. He said it's always nice when that have options as they did this season, but it was a bit of a “No Brainer” with Ben.
On choosing the 20th Bachelor
“It's nice when you have something that's such an easy choice. He's just such a genuine, sweet, humble, good guy, but as you see, he also has something that as a producer is nice because there is that fragility and there's that vulnerable side to him where he does have some issues to deal with, and some things to get over. And I know, it's hard to believe with a guy that looks like that, has issues,” Chris said.
“But again, that goes to show just how hard it is out there, and just how brutal it is,” Chris said. “I think that's the wonderful thing about ‘The Bachelor' is I think that's why we can all empathize. It's why you can relate to what's going on, and it's why the franchise has spanned 15 years, and now 20 Seasons of just ‘The Bachelor,' and not to mention ‘The Bachelorette,' because it's a very simple concept really to think of the show. Not to go to Seinfeld, but it's not based on anything. There's no catch. If you think of most shows, of the shows that have ripped us off over the years, there has to be a twist or a catch. He's not really a Millionaire, he's not really a man at all, or he's a woman. You know, there has to be something at the end that differentiates you from ‘The Bachelor.'
“Well ‘The Bachelor,' at the end of the day, it's a very scary concept to produce because there's Kaitlyn [Bristowe] and Sean [Booth] staying out on a beach or a mountain or wherever, or Sean [Lowe] and Catherine [Giudici] or whoever, and there's just these two people, and they just look at each other, and they hope and they wish and they dream, and it's very simple,” Chris said.
“As I was doing this interview yesterday, someone asked, ‘What's changed?' And we were having this discussion, too with social media and what you guys do—that didn't exist. But if you think about the last 10 minutes of our show, that has never changed.”
“And I think in the history of mankind, that 10 minutes of our lives has and never will change. And that 10 minutes is, there's no dating websites, there's no social media, there's no phones, there's no moms and dads,” Chris said. “It's these two people. There's this man and this woman, scared to death, hoping that they found true love. And as cheesy as that may sound, it is that one thing that no matter where you go in the world, kind of connects us all. It's companionship, it's that hope, that dream of finding somebody. I think that is why the show has just been so relatable. It's probably, I think more social relevant now, more popular than it ever has been.”
“It's a great season. We were a little bit pressured 'cause we wanted to really stand up to this 20th Season, although you can't really do that because you can only work with what you have. Luckily, I think we hit a home run with this guy. It's a great Season, he's a good guy, the women are fantastic. When you have a guy that is a catch, like Ben, obviously the level of interest and the level of competition brings us along with the count and so from night one it was on. When the women came in and saw what they were after, and it was on. So it's good a season with some familiar faces, twins—which the idea of twins is appealing. You think, ‘Oh twins.' And then when you think about it for more than 4 seconds, ‘Oh that's horrible. There are so many problems with that. They're related and family and this is weird, they're sisters.' So it's a very interesting season.”
“And to go through with Ben, who you've heard the idea of him having trouble that he can be loved, and finding love, it's an arcing theme you'll see throughout the season that he kind of deals with. And inevitably, there's that bottom out. This always happens. There's a point in the season when everybody just gets gutted. Not to be related to alcoholism or some kind of addiction, you know there is that bottom that you reach.
“Everybody has a different bottom when you go through something like that, and inevitably, every Bachelor and Bachelorette gets kind of strung out, and that's one of the great things about how we produce this show and this process that people probably outside the show don't understand is it does, it really does strip you down naked and then you kind of start anew, and you start to build. You can't fake your way through this,” Chris said. “Whether you're one of the 25, or 28 this season, or if the guy or girl himself, you can't fake your way through it, you just can't. The first night, maybe the second night, but you will be found out. And if you come in and say, ‘You know what? I've never done this but I'm gonna be the wild person, like I'm usually a really quiet, sweet girl. But I'm gonna go in there and I'm gonna blow the doors off the place.' You can't, you know, you can't fake it for that long. Eventually, you show up, your real self and that is kind of the beauty of this show, and we yell at our TV screens, ‘Oh my God, why, get rid of that person. Don't you see what's going on?' Well first of all, they don't. They don't get to see everything we do. But eventually they do get found out, whether it's Bentley or whoever it is, you get shown for who you are. Again, kudos to the producers and the process that we created that kind of exposes that, so with that, I mean the best way to do this honestly is throwing it out to you guys.”
On personal and work stories and the advent of social media
Chris was very open with us about his relationship and how his marriage and then divorce shaped the way he relates to the Bachelor and the contestants on the show. Chris joked about how someday there would be the “Mother of all tells” some day when he would write this incredible bizarre tell-all of this franchise that has changed his life so dramatically.
“It's funny, I was married for 19 years, and I love the show and I love doing it, and I think being happily married, having 2 kids, and being a family man, and that being so important to me, helped me to be a really good host and be a rock for these people,” Chris said.
“But I think, oddly enough, the last 4 years since my divorce, has made me empathize with them a lot more and realize why they're all here, and what they're going through, and so it's really interesting how my opinions have changed a little bit. I think I've become probably a better host and listener and therapist and friend as I become over the years with these people since then.”
“We started 15 years ago. The reason I know this so well is my son was born. He was 6 weeks old when I got the job, and I met Mike Fleiss, the creator of the show. And it was this crazy concept and reality was very new, very edgy. Survivor had just come on the air, and then we were next. And I remember running into Jeff Probst at an event, and I said, ‘What is it?' I was a sportscaster, and I knew how to host, but this was very different. There was no template, there was no playbook for this is how you host a Reality Show.”
“Jeff actually just said, ‘You're gonna have to figure it out. I had to figure it out on Survivor. Your thing is gonna be so different. You're just gonna have to find your space.' And early on, I was a bit of just a talking head and I almost did have a script per se. I didn't really think too much out of the box. I was just trying to keep my job honestly at the time. I was scared to death, my first Network Show, and we picked up with 6 one-hour episodes. That was it. That was the original concept. No Bachelorette. That was never intended to happen. This is just kind of a one-time deal that we thought we would do. And you know, now we do for Fan Season, there will be at least 10 2-hour episodes.”
Chris said for Fan Season the'll produce about 24 hours of television, including a 3-hour episode and 2 specials.
“We used to do 6. So it's stunning when you think of how much we produce. And now I can't even fathom doing a 1-hour episode. I don't know how we would do it. We can't, and think about your favorite shows, whether it's ‘Revenge' or ‘Scandal,' or whatever it is, they get an hour,” Chris said. “If you went to them and said guys, you're doing a 2-hour show. They'd be like, ‘It can't be done. You could never produce that much.' And they couldn't afford it, but it's amazing that we do 2- and 3-hour shows. Yet we remain, I think, compelling, interesting.”
“This summer, I know we beat everyone to death because we had 4 or 5 hours a night we did on Sunday and Monday nights. We did 24 hours of ‘Bachelor In Paradise,' and that's insane. In this day and age of television, that people don't even watch television anymore. That's astounding to me. Again, the relevance of the show, which is incredible to me. But there were no blogs. I know, there was a world before you guys. MySpace hadn't been created, there was nothing. We controlled the message. You know, Mitch would call and say, ‘Hey you're doing an interview with People Magazine and ET'.”
Chris talked about how back when The Bachelor first started they would sit in a room, and they would control everything that they said, did, and what got out. There was no such thing as spoilers and the show was very private. They had very private dates. They never did public dates back then, because they kept everything so secret. The Bachelor had to grow and change with the digital times and the advent of social media.
“Maybe something possibly might leak out, but it was so hard for information to really get out like it does today,” Chris said. “And then, you know, social media starts growing, it's Facebook and then you go onto Twitter and Instagram and blogs and all that. And it's amazing how our show has had to embrace that. I think one of the reasons our show remains relevant is we have to stay with the generation that's at hand.”
“Ben's 26 years old. When I started this show, I was 30. And now, I'm older than that. But it's a Dazed and Confused thing. I keep getting older, they stay the same age. But Ben's 26. He's of that generation now, and so that's why the college-aged kids love our show, because again, it's relevant to their generation. We have had to grow with you guys. You guys demand more and you have expected more out of television. I think it's good and bad, but you push the envelope.”
“I don't know if you've noticed on the last 3 years, our show has become a lot more organic. There was Juan Pablo where we kind of exposed—we had to show who he was. Maybe back in the day, we would have faked it a little bit, glossed it over and still made him the pseudo T. Row and done the best we could. One of my favorite examples ever was, Ryan Putz, down in Mexico that slept with our girl and then jumped out the balcony and broke his leg.”
“Who knows what we would have done with that. I mean it was just too good of a story to have to tell because it's the greatest story ever, but again now we just show you guys because it's going to get out. Our National Security secrets get out. You don't think 28 Twitter-crazed kids on ‘The Bachelor' are gonna talk? Of course they're gonna talk. They can't eat breakfast without talking. I mean, they get up, go to the bathroom and have to show people. So when they recorded ‘The Bachelor,' of course we're going to talk. These people do exist to talk. They take pictures of everything they do. So you know, you have to embrace that. That is our show and that's the generation—to fight that would be insane.”
“Ben's from Warsaw, Indiana. We had a date in Warsaw, Indiana where we opened up the entire town and did a Carnival. There were 2,000 people there, all of them of course with pictures and cameras…I'm sure there's pictures all over the place of dates we had all season. So again, that's just how you have to embrace it and go with it and realize it's out there so use it, use it to our advantage. There are spoilers sometimes that get out and I wish that wouldn't happen.”
On his favorite season. Does he prefer the Bachelor or the Bachelorette?
We asked Chris is he had a preference to “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette” or if he had a favorite season. He likened that question to asking him to pick a favorite child. I can relate to that. We all joked how depending on the day and their attitude and behavior, sometimes we have a momentary favorite child.
“For me, it goes to my life and when I notice my life changing. Season 2 was Aaron Buerge. We started in the Fall of 2002, with this guy Alex Michel. and while that was kind of big, it wasn't huge. ABC was a bit of a dumpster fire. Their ratings were terrible. The Network was at the end of a lot of shows.”
“‘NYPD Blue' was ending up. ‘8 Simple Rules' with John Ritter. There was the Belushi show. George Lopez had a show. ‘Alias' was on. There were a lot of shows, but nothing was doing great. And then ‘The Bachelor' came on and we did good, not great but we did good. And then something happened over the Summer 2002, and when we headed to the Fall Season with Aaron Buerge, it was just, the world just exploded. You could not turn on the television, pick up the New York Times, Time Magazine, not tabloids, Sports Illustrated. No matter what you picked up, they were talking about ‘The Bachelor'.”
“And by the time we came back to Aaron Buerge, I think we had some 33 million viewers watching ‘The Bachelor.' And you just thought this is different. My life has just changed. I'm a part of something that's much bigger than I've ever been a part of, and we were all just kind of holding on for the ride. And back then, what you see now, which is so uniform that my daughter could produce the show. She knows what it looks like. You all have seen the show so many times, but back then, we didn't know what a Rose Ceremony looked like. ‘This is a Rose Ceremony. No, everyone move over here, sit on a couch. No, everyone stand over.' Figuring this out as we went. Literally figuring it out. We have this thing called Date Boxes. The first time we shot the show, I went on the Beach in Santa Monica and I met them.”
“They would come and there was like this weird bench in the middle of the Beach and they opened up a Date Box and it was this big reveal. None of that ever aired. You never saw that because it was such a waste of time. We shot so much stuff because we didn't know what we would use, and so we just shot for days, and then now we've honed it into we know exactly what we're going to use and what we won't use, and so people think, ‘Oh, you have cameras going 24/7 at the house. How did you not catch this?' Well we don't because we know we're not going to use that, and so sometimes we'll miss things because something crazy will happen.”
“But for the most part we know, and so it's just interesting. So I would go back to like Aaron Buerge, Trista [Rehn/Sutter], which is our highest rated season from start to finish. Aaron Buerge I think is our highest rated show ever with like 33 million. I think we outdrew—don't quote me, I know you will but I'd go back and look, there's something, it was 15 years ago—I think we outdrew the Oscars that year. And I remember Sports Illustrated, they said a sign of the Apocalypse, and it was like ‘This Reality Show Bachelor out rates World Series games like 4, 5, and 6.' Whatever it was, it was like ridiculous, the #1 show on TV. And then Trista came along and that was a huge controversial idea. How dare we put a woman in charge and have ‘The Bachelorette?' It was really crazy back then.”
“And then again now, it seems so benign and commonplace, but back then it was a wild idea. And Trista is just a perfect storm, great guys, wonderful woman, and I think that legitimized our franchise. That was our kind of tipping point of, ‘Oh My Gosh, this is for real.' Ryan [Sutter] and Trista are so incredible. That was the Fairy Tale, and that kind of set the stage for everything that happened after. It really did. I think if we hadn't had that success early on because you know, Aaron [Buerge] and Helene [Eksterowicz], I can't believe I remember their names. They did get engaged, but they broke up not too long after. And obviously Alex Michel and Amanda [Marsh] broke up, and so you know, when you have Ryan and Trista, and they were just so real and they stood the test of time still, that just kind of set the stage like, ‘OK, this can happen'.”
“It was Charlie [Maher] vs. Ryan. And it is a theme, not to promote my book ‘The Perfect Letter,' but that's what I did end up basing my novel is the capacity to love more than one person. That is really what I think the show exposes. We all have the capacity to love more than one person at a time, and it sounds crazy. And obviously, ‘The Bachelor' is dating on steroids. He's about to date 28 women.”
“But we all have that capacity, and Trista was a good example of a first lesson of that. You have Charlie who everybody says on paper, is the guy, right? I mean he has the looks the money, just that ‘it' factor. You're crazy to not end up with a guy like Charlie. But then there's Ryan and he's the right guy because he's the guy inside your heart, inside your head. He's the guy you can't stop thinking about at night and when you wake up in the morning. So that was the first time when you saw this real dilemma of what do I do and I think a lot of times, it's interesting. The women will make that right choice. Guys often don't.”
“They're not smart animals. You can quote that; that's true, if you haven't already figured that out. They're not smart animals. But yeah, when she chose Ryan, I think everyone in America was like, ‘Uh, Thank God'.”
“You know, we got to the final episode, ‘How do we do this? Like does she propose? Does he propose?' And so we actually sat down with Trista and because we knew she was choosing Ryan that final day. And we did it actually at the house. This is him. Trista gives him the worst, we're great friends. I love that they're like family to me.”
“So she still gives me crap every time she sees like so, let's go through my exotic dates, Seattle, Sedona. We did my proposal over a pool in Encino. And I was like, ‘Yes, sorry about that.' But it was funny. Those were exotic nights. You know, they were one nights. We always came back for Rose Ceremonies. We never went anywhere where we didn't fly back the next day. I think Bob Guiney is the first time where we actually stayed over somewhere in Belize and then Jackson Hole or something like that. But it was really funny where back then, it wasn't a big Travel Show. So yeah, Trista got the butt end of that stick for sure.”
“But she ended up with a guy. But it's funny. Even then, we didn't even know how to do the proposal, and she's the one that said, ‘Look, at the end of the day, I'm a lady. I still want to be treated like a lady, and as long as I have the power, I want him to take over at some point.' And so we kind of had to figure this out with Charlie and Ryan without giving away who it was, and it was like who do we give the ring to cause now, if it's the Bachelor, he has a ring in his pocket and he'll surprise her but with how do you do that when they don't know if they're the guy. So they both walk up with rings basically.”
“I ran into Charlie in Las Vegas like a few months ago. It was bizarre. This guy came up to me like, ‘Do you remember me?' I was like, ‘Yeah, I remember you.' But it was funny because back then, I spent a lot, not that I'm not friends with these people now, but obviously, we were closer in age back then. And so, and I spent a lot more time with him, and back then, I hung out at the house like I'd be one of the guys because we had no rules. I would go play poker with the guys and stop by and have a beer. And I watched Trista, who was out with the guys with one of the guys, we'd shoot some pool and play poker and hang out.”
“Now that doesn't happen. It's very professional, but back then, we were just kind of throwing it against the wall and seeing if it stuck.”
So from all of the Seasons, has there ever been a time when you were just screaming inside and say, ‘No, don't pick this person.'
“Yes and No. It's interesting,” Chris said. “I think obviously with age comes wisdom, and obviously this job is giving me an amazing amount of experience. I don't have a Doctorate in Love, but I should be at this point. Life is not so black and white. I think we've all lived a life we enjoy. You know, and when you're young, their age, that's honestly what makes the show so good and why these people at this age makes it such good television because life isn't black and white. There's right, there's wrong. There's good, there's bad, and then you get older and you're like, ‘Nah, there's a bit of gray area there.' And there are times when you want to go back to Ashley [Hebert] and Bentley.”
“Or even Ben [Flajnik]. Ben and Courtney [Robertson] is a good example, because I think a lot of people were screaming, ‘Courtney's terrible, she's evil, she's bad for you.' I have 2 kids, and what's the first thing, you're like, ‘This stove's hot, don't touch it.' And so, that's the way it is for humans. And if I'm like, ‘That guy you're dating is a complete Jack Ass.' You're immediately gonna—cause that's judgment on you, so you're gonna get defensive. You're gonna start defending him. You're gonna run into him even more, and now I've kind of ruined any chance I had of getting in between you guys. And so now it's like how do I approach this situation?”
“And by the way, I'm not all-knowing, and that's very important to understand. ‘Tell me, what is it about this guy that you love so much? What do you see in this? And I'll be honest, I'm not seeing it. I see certain things, so tell me what I'm missing. How does he make you feel? What does he do to you? What does he say? How does he love you that I don't get?' And that is an interesting way to approach it, and help me be a better parent. Honestly, I talk to my daughter and my son so vastly differently than I used to. Because again, believe it or not, parents, we don't know what level and you don't see their everything.”
“And so when I talk to these Bachelors and Bachelorettes, you know, I try to empathize with them a little more. And I can usually get my point across a lot better and impose my will, so to speak.”