Interview: Chris Harrison
He’s written a romance novel, emceed Miss America pageants and landed the limelight role on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” but Lake Highlands native Chris Harrison is most famous for his part on “The Bachelor,” the trendsetting reality show he’s hosted since 2002. By phone, the 44-year-old Los Angeles resident talks TV, discusses his book, “The Perfect Letter” and disses the Dallas media.
How did a nice Lake Highlands guy like you wind up on “The Bachelor”?
My goal was to live in Dallas and be a sportscaster, maybe eventually become the voice of the Dallas Cowboys. But when I got a broadcasting job offer in LA, I thought, what the hell — why not go enjoy the surf and sand for a bit? I’ve been out here ever since. I was kind-of a hired talking head when I first went in, just doing what they asked me to do. Today I’m more of a producer, therapist, counselor — you name it. The show has changed my life and my whole family’s lives.
What did your wife and mother think of the premise of “The Bachelor”?
At first it was so abstract and crazy that I was worried, because I am that conservative Texas man, and I thought, “Dear God, will I ever be able to show my face?”
Does the show’s popularity make it hard to find sincere contestants?
There was a sense of naiveté when we started, and people were on the show not knowing what was going to happen and now we’ve been on almost two decades, and people have all that knowledge going in. They might be there to boost their acting or modeling career, or to get the attention of an ex — who knows? But what I love, you face those same doubts about sincerity in life. I think our show has been a bit of a mirror — a hyper-extended, maybe bastardized — reflection of what’s going on in the real world.
You’ve spoken the phrase, “This is your final rose,” a gazillion times. Ever considered changing things up?
It is an iconic piece of our vernacular now. I mean you can’t give a rose now without thinking of my line. Mike Fleiss [producer and writer] was genius at repeating things until someone got so annoyed that they would write an article about it. One season we did away with the usual lines, and people revolted. That line will follow me the rest of my life.
Do you feel bad for those who get rejected?
I’ve always cared for people. But we all know what we signed up for. My role and relationship with contestants has evolved; they’ve been watching the show for years and they know and trust me. They know that I am fair. But they also know that if they are dishonest or lying I will call them on it.
Has that happened?
Nothing’s ever been overly contentious toward me. Not my job to get involved in those types of things. Now, the interview with Juan Pablo [the polarizing Season 18 bachelor] was awkward and uncomfortable. But I don’t get angry — not like he’s doing anything to me. I’m just trying to get the answers out of him that people want to hear.
You film at night — are the contestants exhausted, and are they intoxicated?
Rose ceremony and date nights go late, but they can sleep all they want. As far as alcohol goes, just like when you go on a date, you choose to drink or not. How much to drink. The beauty of the show is, it’s all about choices.
Your thoughts on copycats, parodies and Lifetime’s Bachelor-based show “Unreal”?
“Burning Love” is a good one. Done by Ben Stiller, they understand what a parody is. There are other shows that are just rip-off shows trying to capture the magic that we have, and those have failed. You can’t capture it. We are very good at what we do. When you see stuff on “SNL” or “Jimmy Kimmel,” that’s a badge of honor that means you are a part of the social consciousness. I have never watched “Unreal.” I saw one scene and I thought it wasn’t very good and I stopped watching. I don’t know the producer or anyone on the show or anyone who watches it. I just know it hasn’t done very well.
Do you foresee a same-sex couple version of “The Bachelor”?
I don’t know. We just talk about doing a great show and keeping it on the air as long as possible. And no matter what it is, if we think we can make the show better, that’s what we’ll do.
Now that you are divorced, would you consider being the bachelor?
It wouldn’t work for many reasons. One, I am not a live-out-loud type of person. It’s a job for me. I love it but I’ve never had a desire or thought to be on it.
Ever wanted to date a contestant?
There is no steadfast rule to keep me from doing so, but I also know I have to be careful. I would be leery of doing anything that would lose people’s trust. Then again there have been thousands of contestants now, so I can’t say never. So far, it has not been an issue.
What about your sons being the bachelor or a contestant on its sister show, “The Bachelorette”?
I support whatever they do. Hopefully I’ve instilled in them confidence, self-respect and faith that will lead to good choices.
When you announced that “The Bachelorette” would feature two bachelorettes, critics called the show (and even you, personally) misogynistic — how did you respond to that?
My response was that the critics should have done their homework. We did the same thing on “The Bachelor” and I don’t remember anyone clamoring saying that was sexist. When we started, there was no MySpace or Twitter. There were decent people in the world who didn’t just live to be a-holes. There is so much garbage out there. Journalism has died a horrible and painful death. Getting sources, much less multiple sources, is something you don’t even do anymore. I’m a student of the game, and I come from an old-school journalism background, where it was done right. Before I put my name on something, you damn sure better believe that I’ve done my research and talked to the right sources.
I guess some reporters assume celebrities don’t have feelings. I am sensing that you do have some feelings about this.
Even what you wrote, it came from a random opinion that you had. (Editor’s note: Harrison is referring to an Aug. 11 Advocate blog post about his book release in which I acknowledged being “among ‘The Bachelor’ haters.”) It’s sad that some of the worst stuff comes from my own hometown. D Magazine did an article about a book signing I did, and it was the most bitter, poorly written article I’ve seen in a long time. There’s been horrible things said about me over the years and I have a thick skin, but this one hit a chord with me. And I actually gave my time to this reporter during this event — and I typically like D Magazine and its writers — but not that one.
Let’s talk about your book. How did you decide on the romance genre?
If I am going to put time into something I am going to have to really believe in it. I did not want to do a dating-advice book or tell-all. But through a series of funny events I thought of a romance novel. It seemed a sensible extension of our brand, what we do on “The Bachelor.” Giving our fans more of what they love and crave.
Where did the characters in “The Perfect Letter” come from?
Some of the book’s characters are based on people I know, but the main characters aren’t. There is a figure toward the middle of the book who kind of acts as a moral compass, and he is all the men in my life that I looked up to — my dad, my grandfather and brother.
Your book is set in Texas but not Dallas, why?
I don’t know — it’s almost like I was too close to the subject. I knew I wanted it to be set in Texas but I don’t feel romantic about Dallas. It’s like a family member, but I think Austin and the hill country is especially romantic.
What were you involved in at Lake Highlands High School?
Soccer was my life. I played in high school and club soccer — a few different club teams including Solar and Comets.
How often do you come to Dallas and where do you hang?
I come about six times a year. All of my family is here. I still have a lot of friends who all went to White Rock Elementary, Lake Highlands Junior High. Ten to 15 of us still keep in touch. We all like places to hide and catch up — that little bar in Lake Highlands [One Nostalgia Place] is one of our places.
When it comes to reality TV in general, how do you think it’s shaped our lives?
You could get really deep, but I think the simple broad brush is that no one could have foreseen the way reality TV would progress. This generation only knows living a public life. My kids have to deal with so much more than I ever had to deal with. Whether it’s reality TV or Instagram, our kids are growing up on camera.
Questions and answers are edited for brevity.
“The Perfect Letter” is available at amazon.com
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