Chris Harrison is quickly becoming the unofficial face of ABC -- not only is he headed into season 16 of The Bachelor, but he's just wrapped up his seventh season of The Bachelorette and second of Bachelor Pad, but he's also currently hosting the network's You Deserve It -- an ethical palate cleanser, if you will, which gives average Americans the chance to win money for their very deserving loved ones.
It's an always emotional hour of TV and one that Harrison was thrilled to host. He recently stopped by to chat with ETonline about this new game show, what you can expect from Ben Flajnik's turn as Bachelor and when he might tack another gig (co-hosting with Kelly Ripa?!?) onto his already jam-packed schedule!
ETonline: How did you end up as ABC's go-to host?
Chris Harrison: It couldn't be more bizarre -- I started out as a sportscaster in Oklahoma City, with the CBS affiliate and fell in love with sports casting. So when I moved to LA, I was actually working for a horse racing network that I think is still alive and well. Then I did a Home & Garden show, a Game Show Network gig and then landed The Bachelor in 2001 and slowly made a niche for myself over at ABC.
ETonline: You Deserve It is pretty much the polar opposite of The Bachelor -- was that intentional?
Harrison: It was a bit of a cleansing maybe [laughs]. But I was sold on this show from the beginning. I kind of relate it to my mom -- we help out the people who would never in a million years stick their hand out and say "give me money" but are the ones who need it the most. That's is why we have friends or family members volunteering them. I love the altruistic, giving nature of the show – but it's also a good game show. You need both elements. The game show draws them in, but the emotional stories drive the fans.
ETonline: The Bachelor is heading into season 16 with Ben Flajnik -- how do you stay excited by it?
Harrison: To me, the greatness of the show is that every season is different. Ashley's season will be nothing like Ben's upcoming season. It makes for a completely new experience and for me to navigate it with them is exciting. A lot of people overlook the genius that is the storytelling of our producers. The Bachelor would be nothing without great stories. Our producers do a great job of ferreting out these stories and letting them grow organically. It's a hard thing to do, as you can tell from all those terrible reality shows that are so heavy-handed on the producing. Our producers have been able to show you these stories without beating you over the head with them. It's a fine line and very few shows do it like us.
ETonline: The recently released trailer for Ben's season features him skinny-dipping and a lot of foul-mouthed ladies. Does anything surprise you anymore with these shows?
Harrison: What I've noticed is that the contestants take their cue from their Bachelor, or Bachelorette. For example, Brad Womack wasn't a big drinker and didn't cuss much, so the women didn't party that hard or show that side of themselves. Ben is a much freer guy [laughs]. You'll see his butt on TV – he didn't care about holding anything back. He's an open guy and you'll see a lot of different sides to our typical contestants. If the girls acted like this with Brad, it would have been a turn-off – but Ben likes aggressive, forward girls -- which makes for a fun season!
ETonline: I must admit, Bachelor Pad is my guilty pleasure show. Did that just stem from a place of wanting more from certain former castmembers who didn't qualify to be The Bachelor or Bachelorette?
Harrison: Bachelor Pad was for the fans who'd created special bonds with the contestants. Our show is all about the stories and interestingly enough, we've noticed over the last few years that our show continues long after the season ends – whether it's through the tabloids or the blogs. There's an insatiable appetite for these people and these stories. Bachelor Pad was born out of that. We call it Bachelor Nation and it's already created a lot of relationships -- Holly & Blake are engaged as are Kipton & Tenley. Even Casey & Vienna ... for a time. That happened outside our show, which is pretty amazing. I mean, we've got relationships forming because of the show, but not on the show.
ETonline: Given that, does it bother you that one of the show's biggest criticisms is that so few long-lasting relationships come out of the show itself?
Harrison: It doesn't bother me at all. The only thing that bothered me was when Ali & Roberto broke up because we heard a lot of "Another Failed Bachelor Relationship." Forget about the franchise for a second, it doesn't do justice to the love Ali & Roberto shared. Or the friendship they had. They had a life together in San Diego. It didn't work out for whatever reason, but it had nothing to do with the show. Just like Ashley & JP are doing great right now, that has nothing to do with the show. That's just two people in love. While we like to take credit for the successes, we can't really take any responsibility for Trista & Ryan. The show introduced them, but everything after that is up to them. There's a lot of love in our immediate family, even if they don’t come from the same season. I know people are going to break up – you can't guarantee a couple – but I'm going to focus on what works.
ETonline: What's harder: the criticism or enduring a tense reunion, like Jake & Vienna's?
Harrison: The hardest thing for me, especially now that I get to know the cast much more in these subsequent seasons, are the last three or four rose ceremonies as I'm leading the girls in and know they're about to broken up with. I've kind of resigned that it's part of the process and part of the risk they've taken in signing up for this show. They're putting it out there for love, so I have to respect that, but walking in with those girls is the hardest part for me.
ETonline: Lots of rumors have you poised to take over Regis Philbin's morning show seat. Any truth to those?
Harrison: While it's flattering, and he's a hero of mine, I am not actively pursuing it, nor are they actively pursuing me. I'll be a guest in late January to promote The Bachelor, but that's about it. Thankfully ABC has kept me so busy – having four shows on the air doesn't leave you a lot of breathing room -- but I could see myself hosting a talk show one day.
You Deserve It airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on ABC, while The Bachelor premieres on January 2, 2012.