As he began speaking about his new book, The Perfect Letter, Chris Harrison seemed nervous to me, something I found surprising for a man who is certainly no stranger to public limelight. After a few minutes, though, he found his rhythm, and by the time he moved on to the question and answer section of the evening about ten minutes later, he was totally at ease and enjoying the evening.
Chris Harrison said that the character of Leigh in his book is based on no one woman; she is a conglomeration of a lot of women in his life including some of the bachelorettes. The love triangle in the book was inspired partially by Andi Dorfman because he feels like she truly loved two different men, and he feels like we have the capacity to love more than one person at once. He didn't endorse polyamory or explore ideas along those lines, but it felt like Harrison was one step away from being able to expand onto that concept.
Harrison said that the lead male character of Jake in the novel was NOT named after Jake Pavelka. He just thought that Jake made a good Texas country boy name.
When explaining why he chose to write a romance, he said people want him to write a Bachelor tell-all which he could definitely do because he has stories that would make heads spin. However, Harrison doesn't want to burn bridges until the show is over and even then he's not sure he wants to do it. He also doesn't want to write a dating book because he doesn't feel like an expert on that. Harrison said he's divorced, so that definitely means he doesn't have it all figured out. He also said at one point he is NOT a matchmaker. He really identified more as a show's producer than as the host as he was speaking.
Returning to the topic of the romance novel, he said his now ex-wife was a big Nicholas Sparks fan, and so he's read The Bible (aka The Notebook) and others of Sparks’ works. Harrison has spent time socializing and talking with Sparks as well. He really was inspired by Sparks and his great books. Chris Harrison did not like 50 Shades of Grey and described those as "sex scenes, not love scenes"; he wanted to write something tamer but yet more adventurous than Sparks in the romance/sex department. When he was writing love scenes, he'd send them to a few trusted females and ask them for suggestions and opinions. He said he promised he wasn't sexting them! The women would send back their opinions including issues around various word choices. Harrison wanted it to be clear that he had not written the love scenes in a vacuum.
He said that he was raised in Dallas and had an uncle in Austin, so he often visited here as a child. (His cousin Daniel walked in a few minutes after Harrison began speaking and Harrison pointed him out; Harrison also paused and said "Oh, hey Karen" at one point to another woman who was there.) He used to go hunting and fishing in the Hill Country, the setting for his novel. Harrison definitely identifies as a Texas boy. He always liked Austin because it's just different than the rest of Texas. He said he's always known his first book would be set here.
With regard to future books, Harrison said he plans to write future books that will be set in the places he's been blessed to travel with The Bachelor. His sense of gratitude around his blessings and what his work on The Bachelor/ette has allowed him to experience was really palpable. He comes across as a truly nice guy who understands how blessed his life has been. He also said that he had a wonderful marriage when he was recounting the list of his blessings.
Harrison wants a movie version of The Perfect Letter and told the audience to start thinking about who should be cast.
As the evening’s question and answer section began, a woman asked, “Have you begun dating again?” Harrison jokingly said something along the lines of, “Thanks for jumping right in with my personal life!” but then he went on to say yes, he has started dating. I thought this was public knowledge, but I guess not everyone is up-to-date or this woman wanted a more specific answer as to a current woman in his life. However, Chris Harrison said that in the words of someone he knows, he is “tragically undateable” because of his schedule. I think most of the women in the audience disagreed! I would suspect the median age of the audience was 40 (Harrison is 42), and the range of ages of most of the women was 15 to 55. There were only a few men there: a couple of teen boys who must have been brought by their mother and a few husbands. I think the only single guy there was an employee at the store. As I enjoyed the people watching opportunity, I was thinking to myself, “The single guys of Austin don’t realize what a prime opportunity they missed here… a captive audience of women who are fans of romance and love!” Anyway, Chris Harrison joked that he had he had a window of about three months in the fall when he might be able to date, but between traveling to Mexico in June to film The Bachelor in Paradise and then moving to Connecticut to film Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in September, plus his book tour and all the other travel The Bachelor requires, he just doesn’t have a life conducive to dating.
With regard to this season of The Bachelorette, Harrison said it was a knock-down fight about Britt versus Kaitlyn amongst all those involved. Harrison reminded the audience that 10 years ago they'd done the two bachelors thing which included Byron Velvick; then Harrison then launched into a brief side remark about how Velvick is down the road in San Antonio, and Harrison had recently talked to him. Returning to the issue of having two bachelorettes at the start of this season, Harrison said that the producers swore they’d never do again. He said that during the meeting when Mike Fleiss decided to do the two bachelorettes, he reminded Fleiss of the vow and was duly ignored. Harrison said it shows how much power he doesn't have as a producer!
Someone queried something about the length of the first episode this season; because the audience members were not using microphones and Harrison wasn’t repeating their questions, I didn’t hear the exact inquiry. He said that this cocktail party this week was basically two in one and so it lasted way too long. He explained how first they were having a cocktail party for the men to decide on the women; the second party was for Kaitlyn to decide on the first 15 men. Harrison said there was nothing sexy about it by the end. He said normally the sun is coming up, but it was full on breakfast time by the time they got done the first week of this season. He said they didn't get home until 8-9 in the morning. Harrison also described a bit what was going on behind the scenes during that extra-long cocktail party. He said that the "control room" is in the three car detached garage. They've got a couch in there, and he and another producer often crash on it. He said he used to try to stay awake all night, but no more. Now some poor kid has to fearfully poke him and whisper, "Mr. Harrison?" to try to get him to wake up. As a tag-on question to this one, someone asked if the night is open bar. Harrison confirmed that the contestants can have anything they want all night long in regards to alcohol.
An audience member asked who should play Harrison in a movie about his life. Another audience member joked it should be Matthew McConnaughey, an Austin local and favorite. Chris Harrison then started talking about his relationship with McConnaughey; they were involved in two triathlons together. I think he called McConnaughey an interesting guy. When Harrison got back to the actual question, he jokingly suggested Denzel Washington would be great. Someone else in the audience suggested Paul Rudd, and Chris Harrison didn't seem to know what to make of that.
A woman asked what they needed to do to get Chris Harrison to show up at their Bachelor watching party in Fort Worth. He said bbq and Shiner Bock are pretty good lures. He said that he loves LA and there is great food there, but nothing to compare to the Tex-Mex and BBQ in Texas.
Someone asked if the contestants ever eat the food that just sits in front of them on plates. Harrison laughed and said he gets that question a lot, and yes, they eat some, but that watching people eat is really boring. He said once the contestants have eaten, there are usually a lot of leftovers so he just eats those. :) He views a lot of the show through the lens of a producer and what will draw in an audience. In regards to editing and things we don’t see, Harrison said that the contestants do discuss movies and politics and "normal" things, too, but it's really boring watching two people discuss a movie they've recently seen.
Someone asked if Harrison preferred The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, and he said the former. He said that was where it all started, so The Bachelor is kind of his baby. He also said women make better tv because of, no offense meant, the drama they create when living together whereas guys work it out or slug it out and then five minutes later will be drinking a beer together.
Chris Harrison said that super-drunk contestant Ryan on Monday was actually bad tv. The producers want stories when they cast people, things that they can draw out across the season. Ryan was just pathetic, and it was over before it began. In contrast, he said Kelsey was gold. She had the amazingly tragic (or in her words, amazing) story, but the way things turned out on screen was the kind of thing that one can't predict but that producers are utterly grateful for.
Someone asked how much say the contestants have in casting, and he said virtually none. He said that the show does casting calls and actually keep files. Harrison was extremely complimentary of the casting department, though I don’t remember the names he mentioned. Sometimes the casting staff will call someone three years later to see if someone is still single because they think that person would be good for whomever is the current star. Harrison said that they have 30 women up until that very night of the first cocktail party, and that it is a battle between producers as to which 25 make it on the show. Each producer may have visited ten of the women at their homes, and so they'll have bias towards whom they really want on the show.
Though it’s been mentioned many times before, someone suggested Harrison should be the next bachelor. He said that he would make a terrible bachelor because he's not the type of guy to take off his shirt in a hot tub with 25 women. He said that you have to be willing to put it all out there, and he's not that kind of person. Harrison said it's why they turn down some great people, because they just don't have the right personality to do it.
Another audience member asked if the producers know how "crazy" the contestants are before signing them on, and he said no. He said that something we need to face as a society is that most of us are crazy. He said if they locked the doors, 50% of the people in the room, if not more, would turn out to be crazy. It's just a fact of life.
Harrison referred to the “women,” not the “girls,” throughout his presentation which I appreciated a lot.
The next questioner asked if Ashley S. from last season would be in Mexico for The Bachelor in Paradise. He responded, "God, I hope so! If she's not going, I'm not going either." He said Ashley is really great and is on the joke until she's not. He said that he's heard (wink, wink) that she's supposed to be there, but with her you never know until she actually shows up. She might forget or go to Mesa Verde.
Someone asked about the legacy issue: it seems like you have to have been on the show to be on the show. Chris Harrison said that this was partially just the battle of getting an audience. If they announce that Susan, an accountant from NY, is the next bachelorette, no one cares one way or the other, but if they announce it's Britt, people will say, "OMG. I hate her so much. She's so fake." He said that even if people hate the person they choose, that's good, because they care and are engaged and will watch. It's half the battle. [I actually disagree with Harrison on that idea. I disliked Juan Pablo so much that I refused to watch his season. It turns out I was right! However, Harrison is probably right that most fans won’t tune out just because they don’t like the star of the show.]
Another questioner asked if the producers would consider doing an all-star season of The Bachelor or Bachelorette. Harrison felt that was unlikely because it would detract from the success of the established show and what it is. He said the closest they came was with Jesse Palmer who made his Bachelor appearance into a sports casting career (whereas Chris Harrison had made his sportscaster career into The Bachelor). Harrison said that he has a lot of athletes who do approach him about wanting to be on the show, but what they want is to date 25 women at once. When he clarifies that they have to fall in love with and marry one, suddenly the athletes aren't interested any more.
According to Harrison, it is now ok for celebrities to “come out” as liking Bachelor now since they’re established. He named Jennifer Aniston and several others. Someone asked what Chris Harrison things about Jimmy Kimmel’s predictions, and Chris said he loves them. He also related that Jimmy Kimmel does not want spoilers. Chris Harrison also thought Jimmy Kimmel was awesome last season because Kimmel got to be Harrison’s alter ego and say all the things he wishes he could say.
A woman asked asked how they pick the date locations. I thought she meant more the activities on the dates, but Harrison interpreted the question to mean the locations in a global sense. He says that they now get approached by tourism boards from around the world. The countries can spend $100K for a short 30 second commercial in the US that no one will watch, or they can spend the same amount on the show and get a two hour high-def sexy commercial for their country. Harrison said that they went to Ireland this season, and that when you watch it, you'll believe it never rains in Ireland because of how they are editing it, but he assured the audience that it very much does rain in Ireland. He said they make Ireland look really sexy. So the producers respond to offers now as to how they select travel locations. However, Trista gives him all kinds of trouble still about how her exotic trip was to Seattle.
Harrison said that he brings his kids on a lot of the trips, and the family is lucky that the kids' teachers agree that travel is one of the best ways to learn. His son is 13 and in 7th grade; his daughter is 11. He said they've traveled more in their lives than he did in the first 30 years of his. Harrison said that when the show goes to the various foreign destinations, they hire locals to work on the show, and he usually befriends one of the locals and gets them to show him the town so he can see it in as non-touristy of a way possible. He said he has lots of down time on the trips, and he takes advantage of it to see what he can.
Someone asked him if he ever clues in the bachelor/ette about problems going on with the contestants or if he just keeps quiet. Harrison said that he's learned as a parent and as the host that if he tells someone not to do something, they'll do it. If he tells his kids not to touch something, the first thing they’ll try to do is grab it. So while he might probe around and try to convince a contestant to talk to him about what they see in the (troublesome) person, he knows that it's part of the bachelor/ette’s life experience to figure it out. He also said there's no accounting for that spark that happens between people when it sometimes makes no sense to an outsider.
Someone asked about the minority casting issue with regard to the show: the fact that minorities are severely underrepresented. I thought Harrison answered this well. He said that it was a problem that they'd created and that they need to fix. He said that it's a problem across Hollywood. Harrison said that it is also reflected in casting calls: minorities don't see themselves on television, so they don't think they can be. When The Bachelor/ette holds the open calls, they only have 5-10% minority turnout, a far cry from the representative portion of the population. From there, the applicants have to pass through a series of hurdles including interviews and a blood test, so that process ends up screening out more people. He said they'd like to have a minority bachelor/ette, but they don't want to just pick a token minority who won't be a good star. Harrison said that a lot of people wanted Marquel to be the bachelor, but there was no way because Marquel had major issues with women and didn't get along with them very well. Harrison thought that was the main qualification for the job! So the producers are looking for the right person, but that person hasn't shown up yet.
At some point during the evening, Harrison mentioned that he said he is still friends with a bunch of the show participants, especially older cast members who are more his age. Throughout his various answers, he'd talk about the people he's still in touch with including Trista and Brad Womack who lives in Austin. He said he got Ashley S. to work a benefit with him in L.A. recently. He does a lot of charity events, especially golf ones from what he mentioned. Harrison also said he was going out to dinner with Brad Womack. When someone asked him where, he jokingly said, "Oh, you know. KFC." I thought that was a great way to diffuse a potentially invasive question with humor.
Someone said something about Juan Pablo (again, hard to understand due to the lack of audience microphones), and Harrison replied, "Ah, my buddy Juan Pablo. Surprisingly, I haven't talked to him lately." Harrison said that three weeks into the show, he knew the season was over and they should pack up and go home. He said that Juan Pablo is a control freak who couldn't let go and experience it. He said that Sean had to go through the experience of letting go andKaitlyn did, too. He said they have to learn the lesson that the more you cling, the less control you end up having.
He said Catherine and Sean really are in love. He said as far as he knew as of earlier that day, Chris and Whitney were still together, though if someone had heard otherwise, it would be news to him. Chris Harrison was glad that Dancing with the Stars was over so that they could leave L.A., go back to Iowa, and start living life.
Harrison said that most audience members can't grasp the stress of the show. They think they wouldn't become a crying mess like so many people on the show, but Chris Harrison said it's totally different when you're there because you don't have your cell to call your mom, you can't do your normal stress relief activities, and you get faced to actually force your raw emotion, and the emotion is RAW. He said it's really hard.
Someone asked him if he had opinions about people who post spoilers. Harrison said that back in the day when they started The Bachelor, the internet wasn't what it is now with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blogs, etc. Now it is an issue. When they hold dates in public, people will see, and they will post. They try to embrace it as much as they can by inviting people to certain dates. Harrison said that the bottom line is that there are mean people out there, and mean people suck. He said that if those people put half as much effort into not sucking instead of waking up each morning and asking "How can I make the world suck today?", then life would be so much better. He doesn't like the spoilers that ruin the final episode, but they can't stop them completely because if two people know things in the modern age, it's not a secret any more.
A young woman who didn’t fit the stereotypical look for bachelorettes jokingly asked why he hadn't replied to her tweet asking to be the bachelorette. Harrison tactfully avoided a direct reply and said that she had a leg up towards becoming a bachelorette because she was from Texas and everyone knows that Texas is the hotbed of controversy half the time.
During the entire evening, the only question I didn't appreciate how Chris Harrison answered was when a man asked when they would do a show with some "normal people.” There was a murmur rumbling through the audience as though some couldn't believe he asked that; I’m not sure if it was his poor phrasing or the idea in the first place that caused the widespread dismay. The audience member quickly clarified, “Like the geeks, the nerds, the people who don't look as great with their shirts off.” There was more chattering and murmuring at that point, and someone near him must have said something to him (but he was behind the bookcase I was leaning against so I couldn’t see the people involved), so he proclaimed at that point, "No, no. I'm married! I'm just asking." Chris Harrison responded curtly that tv is a visual medium, and that when they do the radio version of the show, they'll consider it. Despite the personal questions earlier in the evening, this was the only time I felt like Harrison got bristly with a questioner. The topic clearly generated some deep feelings in him. Whether those feelings are because he agrees with the audience member about wanting some more average people on the show or if it’s because he feels persecuted by fans about this topic on a regular basis, I couldn’t tell. Either way, it was obvious that this was a topic Harrison didn’t want to have to approach.
As the final question, an audience member asked him how he has stayed grounded and if he has a strong faith that makes him the way he is. Harrison said that he comes from a strong family with seven grandkids (including him as the youngest) and 13 great-grandkids. He said that his 99 year old grandmother is the matriarch of the family and is still alive and kicking. He said she's a very strong woman. Harrison briefly mentioned his grandfather but I didn't quite hear what he said (due to the store’s staff talking really loudly near me). He said that when his book came out earlier this week, he realized that he wasn't curing cancer or anything, but his family didn't take much note. (I heard a lot of deep pain in these comments. Like many of us, Harrison jokes about his family’s response, but things like this can be very difficult. I understand that one from a lot of personal experience!)
Harrison followed up by saying he does believe in God, but he really skirted away from the discussion of spirituality for some reason. I can understand how working on a show with a highly Christian-based contestant population, he might want to keep his personal beliefs private if they don’t align, or he might just be the kind of person who prefers not to talk about his spiritual beliefs.
From there, Harrison did say that there is one thing he can't tolerate, and it's lying. He tells every group of contestants that if they are lying, and some of them are, possibly about a boyfriend or girlfriend back home, some about being there for the wrong reasons, then he will find them out. He reminds them that he has a bigger podium than they do, and he will not put up with it. He will call them out on it, and they will regret it. So just don't lie to him. Harrison said Ryan was a great example on the season premiere of someone who was there for the wrong reasons, but he didn't have to call Ryan out on it because Ryan did such a great job on his own. Based on these comments, I took it as a huge compliment when Harrisontweeted that he liked the honesty in the book review I wrote about The Perfect Letter.
As I mentioned previously, I really enjoyed the evening and getting to learn more about Harrison, his book, and The Bachelor/ette. I felt like I walked away with a better understanding of many topics I was curious about.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC