Mike Fleiss is a busy guy. Not only did he just wrap one of the more controversial seasons of "The Bachelor" but its spin-off, "The Bachelorette," just kicked off a new season. Over in TV Land, "The Cougar" is currently airing and a new season of "High School Reunion" is just around the corner. Fleiss's latest series over at the CW focuses on the wedding of a couple that may or may not be best suited for each other. With "Hitched or Ditched" premiering tonight, Fleiss took time out of his busy schedule to talk to our Jim Halterman about the unexpected drama found in the series, the issues that come between the couples and, more importantly, what happens to the wedding cake when the bride or groom is 'ditched' at the altar?
Jim Halterman: How did the concept of "Hitched or Ditched" come about?
Mike Fleiss: I was checking out the ratings for 'The Bachelor' finale and it was like 'Damn, look how much bigger the finale is than any other episode. How do I create a show that has that power and drama in a self-contained episode?' That's how it started. The CW has been great about it and it's a perfect network for it since it's about young people.
JH: There is some real tension that is built up as we wait to see if the couple really do get hitched or ditched.
MF: This one really works. It's hard to create a self-contained hour that has real stakes and a real pay-off at the end. Which episode did you see?
JH: I saw the premiere episode with CeLisa and Travis. There wasn't a single person who wanted these two to get married yet it was a nail biter until the end to see if they'd go through with it. How easy or difficult was it to find the couples?
MF: They're all over the place. We had to find the right ones who had really compelling stories, were telegenic and would be suited for the CW, which is a very high bar. That was hard but these couples exist everywhere. Everybody knows a couple like this. It's not like it's something that people won't understand. I haven't met anyone who hasn't been able to draw a line to their own life with something like this.
JH: When you were just getting started with the show, did you expect the kind of drama you found with the couples and the families?
MF: As simple as this concept is, it's never been done so we didn't really know what to expect but we knew we had something special when we were on the set on the day of the wedding and even we didn't know which way it was going to go. That's very rare. Most of these shows, you can kind of tell which way things are heading not necessarily from the beginning but from the middle or so. With this, it was like 'I don't know!' We'd be texting back and forth to the network from the set and they'd be saying H or D? Hitched or ditched? Nobody knew! Everyone wanted to know what was going to happen. It's a simple little format that just cranks out high-octane reality TV.
JH: If the couple say yes, they want to get hitched, is that really a bona fide priest that legally marries them?
MF: It's a legal wedding completely.
JH: Were the couples pretty comfortable with the cameras?
MF: That's the trick with all these reality shows. I think it's a hard thing to get used to for anyone initially. This generation of young people, 18-34, they've grown up around reality TV and video cameras so they get adjusted to the cameras quickly.
JH: Are the issues that come up between the couples relatively the same?
MF: They're different. Sometimes it has to do with infidelity, sometimes it has to do with career, or there's one guy who is a good Italian boy and doesn't want to move out of the house. He lives with his family and loves his mother and really doesn't want to leave the house. Sometimes it's an ex-boyfriend that's involved.
JH: Are the couples pretty much aware of the issues as they come up or were they often surprised?
MF: The show really forces couples to confront their issues and sometimes they were surprised at what came up and what issue became a deal breaker for the relationship. I'm really proud of the show because it's a reality show that is real with real people and the marriages are real, the weddings are real and the drama is real.
JH: You can sometimes laugh at what happens with these two couples and their situations but there is also some real emotional drama that's going on here, right?
MF: Oh yeah. The families get involved and it's a real wedding. We had one bride that had to go to the hospital.
JH: Are there counselors on hand?
MF: Oh yeah. Plenty. We do that on all our shows even on 'The Bachelor.' And on 'The Bachelor' where they've known each other all of six hours how devastating could the heartbreak be? But we still have counselors there so on a show like "Hitched or Ditched" we were well equipped.
JH: What happens to the cake and all the alcohol when someone 'ditches' the other?
MF: The crew eats the cake. [Laughs.] They get hungry. I mean, that guy holding that boom works up quite an appetite!
JH: Have you followed up or revisited anyone after they went through the process?
MF: We haven't done that for the purposes of the show but the producers of the show are still in contact with them and, at this point, all the married couples are still married. The couples that ditched stayed ditched. It's a great show because either way there's a payoff. There's either a wedding or there's a train wreck.
JH: Reality was once thought of as something that would burn out but it's only picking up steam. Do you agree?
MF: It's never going away. This is no fad anymore. It's been around now prominently for almost a decade and there's more of this on TV than scripted channels across all the dials. And viewers don't see it as alternative television anymore. Frankly, scripted television is alternative television at this point. If you go over the dials, excluding reruns, you're going to see more first-run reality television more than anything else and that includes all the talk shows, the variety show, 'The Daily Show' and 'Colbert' are all versions of reality shows. It's never going away.
"Hitched or Ditched" premieres tonight at 9:00/8:00c on The CW.