Chris Harrison Talks About the 'Bachelorette' Moment We'll Be Talking About Tomorrow
by Kim Potts, posted Jul 19th 2010 5:00PM
It's been eight years and a whopping 20 seasons since Chris Harrison and a rotating cast of men and women looking for love on reality TV first brought 'The Bachelor' and 'The Bachelorette' to primetime, but, as tonight's installment of 'The Bachelorette' (8PM ET, ABC) will prove, the long-running series can still spark watercooler chatter.
Harrison, who's been the face of the show since it debuted in 2002, talks about tonight's dramatic episode with 'Bachelorette' Ali Fedotowsky and potential love match Frank Neuschaefer, about that now infamous interview with recently-split 'Bachelor' couple Jake Pavelka and Vienna Girardi, and about the franchise's enduring presence not only in TV land, but in pop culture, as evidenced by the new 'Bachelor' video game ... and Broadway musical???
We've seen the previews of tonight's episode, and though we obviously don't have all the details, it certainly looks like Ali is going to be blindsided by Frank, with another revelation that one of the contestants has a girlfriend. Is she going to be shocked by Frank's news?
Yes, we've shown a lot in the previews, so I can tell you that the Frank and Ali situation does definitely come to a head in Tahiti on the exotic date. I'm not sure it's fair to say that she's blindsided, though, because if you watch their relationship, you go back, even to some of the guys who are gone, to Kirk and Roberto and Chris, and it was so easy with them and Ali. There were no battles, no challenges, but with Frank, even as recently as last week, she was saying, "I just don't know about [him]. I'm not sure." And he's not sure. When they're together, their chemistry is amazing, but when they're at odds, I think everybody watching is thinking the same thing, which is "What are you doing with him?!" Obviously, there are red flags everywhere, and he's a bit of an emotional wreck, and I don't think he really knows exactly what he wants in life yet ... that definitely comes to a head, in a bad way for Ali, [tonight].
This is a lot more emotional for her than the Justin situation?
We've never had anything this emotional, this late in the season. With Justin, the Rated-R deal, it was something that didn't knock Ali on her butt. She didn't see it coming, but it wasn't that big of a deal. It was fairly early on, and she had her doubts about him anyway. But when you get to the final three, you have let go a lot of great guys, you have met families. You've taken this relationship to a very serious point, and for this to happen at this point ... we weren't sure how Ali was going to react. Honestly, we thought she might just pack up and leave, and the show might be over. This Frank deal definitely sets in motion a chain of events that affects her life, and the rest of the show. I know I use this word a lot, but it's a very dramatic episode.
Thinking about how the show has changed in 20 seasons, between 14 'Bachelors' and six 'Bachelorettes,' this isn't the same kind of stuff we saw in the beginning. We'll actually see Frank go meet with this other woman, right?
Maybe this is something, in the past, we wouldn't have let happen this late, to protect Ali. But you can't cover this stuff up. You can't slide it under the rug, and say, "Oh, don't give him a rose, because he wants to leave," so you have to let this play out. And the audience demands it ... the viewers would see right through it if you fake it, so we just had to let go. It's very real and very raw, and it's very emotional for Ali. It will be the most talked about TV event on Tuesday morning, by far.
What's your perspective on the Jake/Vienna interview now? You've been living with it, what people were saying about it, before it even aired. Now that it has aired, everyone's seen it and shared some very strong opinions about it, where does it sit with you now? Was it a good thing to do the interview?
You know, I don't think it was a good thing or a bad thing. I definitely stand behind doing it. After Vienna sold that story to the tabloid, I think what was about to happen was an absolute forest fire, so I think sitting down with me, someone they both like and trust, was good for them.
I thought that the outcome would be much different. I didn't see it blowing up in our faces like that ... I really didn't. I thought it would be contentious, but I know them well enough -- and literally had just been with them a couple of weeks prior -- that I could get them to a place of at least an amicable break-up ... "Let's go on our separate ways, let's stop the accusations and mudslinging." And I almost was there. You know, that final question that I asked Vienna, she was actually going towards saying, "I accept my part in this," but she just kind of melted down. And people have asked me, "Why did you only ask Vienna to apologize?" and I say, "Well, I didn't ... I was going to ask both of them, but, as you saw, she left," and it a disaster.
But you know, I just saw Vienna yesterday, I ran into her for the first time since the interview -- we had texted back and forth, but I saw her for the first time in person since then -- and she gave me a big hug, and she's happy as can be. I [said to her], "You know, people feel like I took Jake's side, and was very biased," and she said, "That's crazy!" She thought it was very fair, and that it was very open and honest. And she feels, like I do, that you got to see everybody for who they are. And so, I feel good about that. As long as the people involved are okay with it. And she knows I don't hate her dog. I do not hate her dog, because I got a little grief for that.
I think it was just an honest, open, raw, emotional night.
I thought it was a fair interview. If anything, it painted Vienna a lot more sympathetically than she'd been portrayed anywhere else, and that came from, as you said, viewers getting a better chance to see both she and Jake for who they are.
People gave me grief, I think, because I was much more pointed with my questions and asked more questions [of] Vienna, but as an interviewer, and I've been doing this for quite some time, that's where the story was. Vienna's the one who kind of stirred this up the most with that tabloid story that she sold, so I felt like she's the one that needed to answer some questions. She's the one that kind of started this ball in motion, so that's where the story was. And honestly, Jake wasn't saying a whole lot, and she was, so, again, as an interviewer, that's what was driving this. But in doing that, I think you were able to see both of them in an open, honest way. So people often criticize me for being biased, but then in the same sentence say, "We saw Jake for who he really is, and we sympathize with Vienna." And I'm like, well, then, if that's the case after the interview, was I really biased? If I was, I did a horrible job.
So, bottom line, are they both in better places, better off apart?
Well, I think they're better off being apart. I mean, you saw in that interview ... that wasn't going to be fixed. That wasn't a bump in the road, where [they] could get by it. They are not meant to be together. They want different things in their lives. Vienna thought they wanted the same things, that they were going in the same direction, but obviously that wasn't the case. So yeah, they're definitely in a better place right now. He's off with his life, and she's got a job here in L.A., and she seems very happy.
You've mentioned on the show and in other interviews that you've maintained friendships with some of the past 'Bachelors' and 'Bachelorettes' ... is that true in most cases? Do you usually remain friends, with at least the main 'Bachelor' and 'Bachelorette' from each season?
A lot of them, yeah. Even if you go way back to Andrew Firestone, who's one of my best friends. We go up to see him and his wife and baby boy up in Santa Barbara all the time, and Bob Guiney, and on down the line to Andy Baldwin ... Trista and Ryan, I see several times a year, and she was just out here [in Los Angeles] and had dinner with my wife and I, so it's definitely this bizarre added bonus to hosting this show. I keep in touch with a lot of them, and oddly enough, a lot of times they still call me for advice, whether it's business opportunities coming their way, they're being asked to host something, for example, or advice on what's going on, if they're getting crushed in the tabloids, what to do. So, it's kind of funny, I sometimes remain this father figure for them as their lives go on after the show.
Part of it is because, I'd like to think, I'm such a good guy [laughing], but part of it is, I'm the only one there [during the show] for them to talk to. We take away their mom and their dad and their friends, and they are left to deal with this on their own, and I do kind of hold their hand and walk them through it. And depending on who it is, especially if it's a 'Bachelorette' -- and I don't know why, but maybe it's my Southern upbringing or the fact that I have a daughter myself -- I just feel very protective of them. I remember with Trista, that first 'Bachelorette,' I was much harder on the guys than I would ever be on any of the 'Bachelorettes.' You want to protect them and get them through it. And Ali the same way. It's been such an emotional season for her ... I felt sorry for her at times. I just kind of wanted to give her a hug and take her away from everything.
The show has become such a phenomenon that it's now spun off into a video game. Are your kids impressed that you star in a videogame?
That's gotta move me up, because how many dads at school are in a video game? But the only thing is, when you tell them what video game you're in, it's not like it's some war game or driving game, but it's still gotta move me up on the list, right?
Will you allow them to play 'The Bachelor' game?
Absolutely. In all seriousness, they were very excited when I told them about it. The kids are really over the moon. It's so cool that we have a video game coming out about the show.
What do you think fans of the show will like most about the videogame?
Well, obviously, it's an homage to our fans and our show. So if you love the show, you're really going to enjoy hearing my voice [laughing], the usual phrases -- like "the final rose" -- and setting up the dates. And I did all the voiceover stuff myself, so it really is kind of like that same 'Bachelor' mode. And also, the same characters as on the show, the same people, like Trista, and Andy Baldwin, all the other people we've gotten to know and love over the last eight years are in it.
I also think that nobody watches our show alone. You know, I run into women who watch the show all the time and 90 percent of them say, "Oh, my group on Monday night, we all get together," so I can only imagine how fun it's going to be for these groups to get together and play it. You know, not that I would condone this, but I'm guessing [there might be] a nice bottle of wine, and a bunch of ladies getting together and playing the videogame. The same groups of people who get together to watch the show are going to love the videogame.
Do the players of the video game get to manipulate the matches, who hooks up?
Absolutely! As you go along in the date, you can sabotage, you compete against game characters, you can do multiplayer mode with up to three friends ... you can definitely sabotage each other, sabotage dates as you go along. Also, there are things you're gonna do as you go on these dates. There are challenges and dates along the way, to kind of move you along and [determine] whether or not you get a rose. And there are personality tests, where you actually learn more about yourself, not only in the game, but in real life. And you check your compatibility against the Bachelors and Bachelorettes and against your friends in the game ... so the more you unlock, the more you do, the more fun it is. You find out some interesting stuff about yourself and who you're playing with.
So it's sort of a dating self-help game?
There is a real chance that this video game will actually help people hook up. We could have 'Bachelor'/'Bachelorette' couples come out of this video game.
Does it surprise you that the show has reached such a place in pop culture that it now has inspired its own video game?
Absolutely! You know, people say, "Did you ever think 'The Bachelor' franchise would turn into this?" No. Anyone who says they knew 'American Idol' or 'Dancing With the Stars' or 'The Bachelor' was going to turn into this phenomenon, you're wrong, you're lying. You just never know. This day and age of TV, to last eight years and 20 seasons is remarkable. And when you are a part of 'Saturday Night Live,' or you become a one-liner in all of the late-night talk shows, that means you have become a part of pop culture. You're a part of society, and then, to take this next step and become a video game, you have to be part of the consciousness of the country, to feel like we're going to sell video games. So, it's a huge testament to the franchise and to how far we've gone and how long we've been around.
What do you attribute that to?
The host! [Laughing] There's only one constant in the show. There's only one reason we've been around for 20 seasons, and that's me. At least, that's what my agent always tells ABC. No, but really, there are a number of reasons, though, I think more than anything, it's the fans. The viewers have accepted what we've done, and they've believed in what we've done, and they have basically invited us back year after year. That's the only reason ... viewers keep showing up. And our producers have done a phenomenal job. They have evolved the show over the years, for sure. I think in the beginning, it was a novelty. But as the years go by, there's so much reality TV, and the ['Bachelor'] game has changed. We had to become much more savvy, much better storytellers, kind of break all the boundaries. I think you've seen, in recent seasons, there really are no rules to this show any more. It's not just the pretty little TV show that goes on a date. We kind of had this pattern for awhile, but the fans demand more. They demand to see behind the curtain and see what's really going on, so you have the Jake and Vienna special, or you have Rated-R hobbling around the hotel after he gets busted for having a girlfriend. You have to show these things now.
What else could you see happening from the franchise ... there are DVDs and now the video game ... could there be a 'Bachelor' amusement park ride? It is a Disney show ...
No lie, I was just talking to Mike Fleiss, the creator of the show about this last night. We were talking about all of the things that have been pitched to us over the years ... books, dating sites ... and he said the craziest one was that someone had even [pitched] the idea of a Broadway play. What do you think of 'The Bachelor' on Broadway?
Would it include former contestants, singing and dancing?
Well, who knows, we're not seriously thinking of doing it ... but, why not? We already ended up on Broadway with Ali [on 'The Bachelorette'] this season. Ali and Roberto were in 'The Lion King,' right there on Broadway.
Ultimately, are people tuning in because they don't believe these people can find love, or lasting love, or are people tuning in more because they are optimistic, and they do believe people can find love and have enduring relationships from the show?
Well, obviously, I've drunk the Kool-Aid, but I'm an optimist, and I feel like people watch ... obviously, the action and the adventure and the drama ... I think all of us have that sick voyeuristic side to us, where we wanna watch, we want to see the train wrecks and all of that, but I think we also want to see the end of the race. I think we all have that kind of hope that there is going to be love, that there is going to be that Ryan and Trista wedding day. There is going to be that Jason and Molly wedding day, however tumultuous it is to get there. I think we all want that, even when we have that in our own lives, we like to watch it. But I also think we have that side of us where we like to judge. We like to sit safely on our couches, with our girlfriends and our guys and judge people and talk.
Even the people who mock us, and say, "Oh, this isn't real," or "This is too much drama," those are the first people watching. Like the Jake and Vienna thing ... that fight you saw is a fight that all of us have had. They were arguing about GPS systems, furniture and a dog. The most inane arguments, but we've all had them. And obviously, that's not what they were really arguing about. But I think we all empathized with them, we all understood what was going on, and we all wanted to watch it.
You're such the face of this reality show ... are there any reality shows you would go on? There's been a lot of talk about a celebrity version of 'Wipeout' ... would you do it?
Well, first of all, 'Wipeout' is absolutely the favorite show in the Harrison household. We watch it as a family and laugh hysterically. My kids, who are eight and six, love it. My wife and I love it, and I actually know John Henson really well from our TV Guide Network days, and I know John Anderson, who was a sportscaster in Tulsa when I was a sportscaster in Oklahoma City, and we were really good friends. That's where we both started. So I love those guys, and it's a great show ... I told the ABC people I wanna do 'Wipeout,' and they said, 'I don't think you really want to do that. You need to come watch the show being taped to see just how rough it is on these contestants.' So now I'm a little bit scared. The thing I actually am definitely doing is appearing on 'Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?' And I'm a little bit scared of that one, too, because I already know that I'm not.