The Bachelor's Chris Harrison isn't looking for someone to give his final rose to. He found her long ago. But he only recently found the perfect place to take her and their two young children: the City of Light.It's a brisk autumn night in Paris as Chris Harrison and his family gather in the Trocadéro, the area overlooking the Eiffel Tower. Harrison's two children - son Joshua, four, and daughter Taylor, two - scamper about, oblivious to the cold, as Harrison talks about The Bachelor, the show he has hosted since 2002. This season unfolds in the City of Light, where Harrison and his family lived while he was filming the show last fall. Last night, Harrison shivered near this very spot until midnight as they shot the show's opening sequence.
"It was freezing," Harrison says, blowing into his gloves for warmth. "But this is going to be a good season. We've gone back to basics." That's a good thing for a franchise that was threatening to wear thin after a three-seasons-a-year rotation and 1,000 hot tubs. This time, however, The Bachelor has taken a break from the network schedule and abandoned the no-rules gimmickry of last season. They have eschewed near-celebrities and professional football players for a good-natured, good-looking (but of course!) ER doctor from Nashville named Travis Stork. "He's a wonderful guy," Harrison says.
Come on. You say that about all the bachelors.
"No," he says, rocking on his toes. "No, I really don't."
In the world of entertainment, Harrison has a pretty singular job. Like Survivor host Jeff Probst and American Idol's Ryan Seacrest, Harrison is a celebrity without being a personality. He is, quite simply, "that guy from The Bachelor," good-looking but not threatening, polite but not a pushover. Raised in Dallas, Harrison fit the wholesome middle-American profile the producers wanted: He married his college sweetheart, Gwen, at the tender age of 22, and, after Chris's career as an Oklahoma sportscaster, which he parlayed into a job hosting a horse-racing network in LA, the couple started a family. "The producers wanted someone you'd never perceive as hitting on the women," Chris says. Then he adds, with a wink to his wife, "I do all that behind the scenes."
Back when he landed the job, reality television was still a fledgling commodity. The show's creator, Mike Fleiss, had recently aired what may well be the genre's low point, the disastrous Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?
"When he first got the job, I was nervous," admits Gwen, a Southern beauty who shares her husband's easygoing nature. "I thought, 'What is this show? Are we gonna be able to show our faces in church again?' "
She needn't have worried. Now in its eighth season, The Bachelor (and its sister show, the three-season-old The Bachelorette, which Harrison also hosts) has not only become one of reality TV's staples, but it has also become part of America's pop culture vocabulary. You don't have to watch the show to know its contours. It has been spoofed on Family Guy, South Park, and Saturday Night Live, inspired a slew of gimmicky spin-offs (including Joe Millionaire and Married by America), and netted Harrison gigs such as hosting the Miss America pageant and a guest spot on Six Feet Under. Despite early controversy - the National Organization of Women claimed it brought female exploitation to a new low - the show pales in comparison to such later genre inventions as The Swan and Extreme Makeover. Beside those shows, The Bachelor seems almost quaint in its quest to produce, inside television's peculiar fishbowl, a classic storybook romance. (Even if it generally turns out more like a soap opera.)