Reality dating shows have been a guilty pleasure among audiences for decades, but a common critique of the fan-favorite genre is the romanticized (for lack of a better term) idea of dating on national television.
Aside from cameras following contestants looking for love — or fame? — in recent years, dating shows have been scrutinized for their choice in contestants. In a day in age where hit shows give lucrative platforms to reality stars, viewers question whether casts made up of genetically-blessed twenty-somethings are searching for a soulmate or a social media sponsorship deal.
With “Labor of Love,” Fox is hoping to avoid unrealistic dating show tropes by casting the most mature set of contestants in recent broadcast history with a 41-year-old established lead, Kristy Katzmann, and a group of male suitors ranging from the age of 36 to 46.
“Labor of Love,” hosted by “Sex and the City” alum Kristin Davis, follows Katzmann, a successful woman who seemingly has it all but is longing for one more thing: motherhood. The series introduces Katzmann to 15 men who are equally committed to settle down and start a family.
“I hope this journey rocks the status-quo to open up more choices and possibilities for women,” Katzmann tells Variety, adding that she hopes her willingness to share her story will make female viewers realize they have options and they are not alone. “Ultimately this series is a modern-day female empowerment story about taking control of your future. This is my story, but it is also the story of so many women I know.”
“Labor of Love” is not Katzmann’s first time at the reality romance rodeo — in 2007, she was a contestant on Brad Womack’s season of ABC’s “The Bachelor.” Katzmann believes, since the stakes are higher with the desire to start a family, she has a better chance for a positive outcome on Fox’s new series, though.
“Labor of Love” is focused on “well-established, mature adults who have already lived full and accomplished lives, in their own right,” she says.
The search for the female lead was extensive, but what attracted the network to Katzmann was her authenticity, according to Rob Wade, president of alternative entertainment and specials at Fox. Long before she knew about the show, Katzmann had already seen doctors and was ready to go to a donor to have a child herself.
In order to present Katzmann with a group of potential suitors who are as serious as her when it comes to parenthood, Fox was very specific in its casting efforts. Aside from typical background checks and specific age-range search, producers had many conversations with potential contestants to ensure they had the same aspirations as Katzmann. Focus groups and research also demonstrated the prevalence of single parents and the substantial increase in the amount of women who have decided to have a baby on their own, in recent years.
“All of the men had that same ambition and they feel they’re ready to settle down. We didn’t want people just to come on and say that they just wanted to be on TV,” Wade tells Variety. “We wanted to make sure that it was bulletproof and that they wanted to have a child as well.”
Wade says they found that many men in their mid 30s and 40s are just as serious about settling down as women are. In fact, should there be a future season, the network would consider a male lead with the same format.
“It’s very of the moment,” Wade says. “I don’t think this is a show that you could have made with such integrity, honesty not long ago, because what is happening in the show is what is happening across America — the traditional acceptance of what motherhood or families are is changing. Men and women have more choices, and they are finding later in life that the original roadmap didn’t work out, and that they want to have a child.”
“I want people to be able to watch the television and see a reflection of [themselves],” he continues. “I don’t think when you’re always watching a younger-aged dating show that you do.”
Last summer, Fox tried their hand at reality dating with “Paradise Hotel,” hosted by Kristin Cavallari, but canceled that show after just one season. By now presenting a modern take on the genre, the network hopes to separate themselves from the competition, which has amped up in recent months with such new series as Netflix’s “Love Is Blind” and “Too Hot To Handle.” (Overseas, “Temptation Island”– which started on Fox in the early 2000’s — is readying to head back into production with coronavirus-proof safety measures.)
“Dating shows have been around for years. They are a cornerstone of any sort of reality portfolio on a network. As network executives, I think we all dream to have our big tentpoles covered — a music competition and then a physical competition and then a dating competition — but no one network really ever has a full house,” says Wade, who also oversees “The Masked Singer,” the envy of every other network right now when it comes to the shiny floor competition category. (The dating genre, of course, has long been led by “The Bachelor” franchise at ABC, was has been untouchable for nearly two decades.)
Around the same time that “The Bachelor” hit the scene, Fox was home to reality dating fare including “Temptation Island” and “Joe Millionaire.” In more recent years, the network has played around with various forms of dating shows from a wannabe Prince Harry experiment in 2014 with “I Wanna Marry Harry” — pre-Meghan Markle, of course — to Mark Burnett’s “Coupled” in 2016; Andy Cohen’s reboot of “Love Connection” in 2017, which ran for two seasons, and “Flirty Dancing,” which debuted earlier this year.
“Of all the genres, I think a dating show is the biggest guilty pleasure and it’s incredibly tough to crack,” Wade says.
Another differentiating point with “Labor of Love” is a star host in Davis, who is beloved by TV audiences for her role on one of the most iconic shows credited with establishing female empowerment and relationship dynamics that differed from societal norms.
“We wanted a female host. We felt that was important, and we felt like we wanted someone who connected to the subject matter,” Wade says of Davis. “Obviously from a character point of view as Charlotte in ‘Sex and the City,’ a lot of her story was about children. And in Kristin’s own life, she had been through a lot of similar experiences to Kristy, so we felt she would be someone who would really connect to her, understand what she was going through, and help and advise her.”
Like Katzmann, Davis hopes her new series will create a more open dialogue and de-stigmatize the choice to become a parent later in life.
“So many women and men find themselves in the situation of being very successful, yet not having found a partner or focused their time on creating a family,” Davis tells Variety. “Everyone should be able to talk about their desires to become a parent without shame or judgement. We hope that ‘Labor Of Love’ helps with this.”
“Labor of Love” premieres May 21 on Fox.