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‘Love Is Blind’ Creator: Revelations From Reality’s Biggest Hitmaker

On April 16, Netflix expected to deliver the second live telecast in the streamer’s history — a reunion special for Love Is Blind. An epilogue of sorts to the blind dating competition’s fourth season, it seemed like a relatively low-stakes exercise for the platform’s latest technology. But when an internal bug kept the episode from airing until the next day, it became apparent that stakes were, in reality, quite high. Fans flocked to social media in disappointment and collectively lost their minds. “I lost my mind,” recalls Love Is Blind creator Chris Coelen. “I was sitting in front of my TV like, ‘What is happening? Give me the updates. What’s going on?’ ”

For those sleeping on Love Is Blind, the debacle proved its massive and still-ascendent popularity. It’s easily the most successful unscripted series in Netflix history, spending more days (131) in its U.S. top 10 over the past 18 months than any other original. Ratings monitor Nielsen notes that it closed out 2022 with 13.1 billion minutes viewed, more than any other unscripted series on any platform — digital or linear. And considering that the recently aired fourth season has already eclipsed its predecessors, this number stands to grow. Yet Love Is Blind is but a single hit within one of the most formidable portfolios in TV. Producer Kinetic Content, which Coelen founded in 2010 after a long run of repping reality clientele as an agent, has become a veritable hit factory — also supplying the second (The Ultimatum) and third (Perfect Match) most popular unscripted shows on Netflix, the enduring top performer on cable network Lifetime (Married at First Sight) and a steady drumbeat of new entries (see ABC’s Claim to Fame, Amazon’s The Ride and Bravo’s Love Without Borders). Coelen, THR‘s Unscripted Power Player of the Year, spoke about his shingle’s approach to the genre, putting more queer individuals on dating shows and why reunion specials probably shouldn’t be live in the first place.

It seems like every couple of years there’s an existential crisis in the unscripted space where people claim that there’s a drought of new formats — or that “everything’s been done.” Love Is Blind has calmed plenty of those fears. What’s your take on why people get so worried?

I’m a crazy, weird research person. I put together lots of statistics and charts. I’ve looked at this really specific issue. And today’s biggest formats — the longest-lasting, still-a-hit formats — there are basically 25 of them. The vast majority of those were launched before 2010. And that’s worldwide. Back then, there was this rush to greenlight. It was so much easier to sell shows. Not only to sell shows but to get the audience excited about them. It was new and it was different. It kind of stopped after 2010. Since then, there have only been four new shows that have hit number one on their platform in their most recent season — and we make three: Love Is Blind, The Ultimatum and Married at First Sight. The other is The Masked Singer [on Fox].

There are surely more than that, no?

I’m talking about the ones that have been reformatted in multiple territories around the world in multiple languages. There are other hits — look at Below Deck [at Bravo] or 90 Day Fiancé [at TLC]. Great shows, but they haven’t been reformatted in a foreign language. The Traitors has, but that’s not number one for any of its platforms.

Three pairings on the fourth and most recent season of Love Is Blind (left) ended in marriage, while only one couple from “break up or stick together?” companion series The Ultimatum: Queer Love (right) stayed together.

Three pairings on the fourth and most recent season of Love Is Blind (left) ended in marriage, while only one couple from “break up or stick together?” companion series The Ultimatum: Queer Love (right) stayed together. COURTESY OF NETFLIX (2)

So, what’s been the secret for you?

To get a huge freaking format hit on an international level, which is really what everyone is aspiring to, it’s very, very hard. You have to be unique but not a gimmick. Gimmicks might work for a season, but then you’re done. And these shows have to be nurtured. Sometimes, even within the reality industry, people take execution for granted. I’ve heard comments from really smart people in this business to the effect of “Oh, by your second or third season, a show’ll just edit itself.” No, it won’t!

The fourth season of Love Is Blind is our biggest yet, because it does not edit itself. Every single night this week, I’ve been in my office past midnight, going through raw footage.

How would you describe the marketplace for unscripted sellers right now?

Really chaotic and probably a bit scary for a lot of people. With the strike, all the consolidation that’s going on and layoffs everywhere, it’s an anxious time in a lot of ways. For a long time, especially as an agent, I focused on “What does everyone want?” I’m less in that place right now, partly because we’re fortunate to have some hits and stability. But we’re also very selective about which projects we take out. So, for me, it’s less about a seller’s market. Because I haven’t pitched a show in almost a year.

That seems like a long time.

I went in for a meeting with Netflix two weeks ago, and I hadn’t been in that office since pre-COVID. We were talking about the pitches that I’ve come out with since I pitched Love Is Blind in 2018. That went on the air at the beginning of 2020. Since then, I pitched them The Ultimatum, which they ordered straight to two seasons. I think our pitches are well developed. And I know we’re really passionate about them. People on the buying side get excited about that. So it’s less me reacting and more being passionate about something I believe will work — not just for the moment but for the long term.

Labor unrest is shaping up to be the Hollywood narrative of the year. If unscripted producers had their own union, what would its biggest gripe be?

The unscripted programming is some of the most popular programming in the U.S. It’s also, historically, much more cost-effective [for networks and platforms]. It’s cheaper. And we, the unscripted community, have been locked into that for the most part. There are a lot of people doing work-for-hire stuff, locked into what are really rote deals where you make a 10 percent production company fee and that’s supposed to cover all these people who work at your company. There’s not really an alignment with success. I feel very empathetic with the Writers Guild. Look, every deal is different and you can go back and you can try to renegotiate, but I do feel like we should all be more aligned. Unscripted producers identify with a lot of the same issues as the Writers Guild.

What do your deals look like right now?

Generally speaking, and not about any one of my shows, what happens when you sell an unscripted series is that the network or platform pays for 100 percent of the cost and they own it. That’s it. That’s the model. And you serve at their pleasure. Sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to change that model a little bit because you have some leverage. Sometimes there are things that you can hold on to — whether it’s international distribution or building in bonuses with regard to format or production elsewhere. But it’s much, much harder than it should be. It’s not a fair playing field. It’s not.

Season one of The Ride has worked for Amazon.

Season one of The Ride has worked for Amazon. Courtesy of Prime Video

What’s the origin story of the metal cups? Because nearly everyone on each of your Netflix shows is always drinking, and the fact that they do it from these opaque goblets has garnered a lot of speculation online.

The first time that we did it was on Love Is Blind. Something I think a lot about is this idea that, when you turn on a show, something visually should tell you what you’re watching. “Oh, it’s that show.” And since Love Is Blind has these multiple parts to it — the conversation pods, the romantic getaways, back in real life and then at these weddings, it’s very disparate in some ways. So our original thought was, “What can we do that would unify all those? Let’s have golden goblets.” (Laughs.) No matter where they are, they’re always drinking out of the same thing. Doing it with silver on The Ultimatum and white on Perfect Match. It’s just a fun way to inhabit this Netflix universe of shows. And it’s funny, because some people go, “Oh, well they’re doing it for the edit!”

The live episode not working out spiraled into a much bigger deal than anyone probably expected. Analysts blamed it for a Netflix stock drop the following day. What was your experience that night?

Well, I wasn’t there. It was Netflix’s idea to do a live reunion. They came to us, and we all had some misgivings about it. But, collectively, we decided that if we’re going to do it, we’re going to bring in my former client, [Who Wants to Be a Millionaire producer] Michael Davies. We’d done some shows with him in the past. So we weren’t actually producing it. Normally in that situation, I’d be in the control room. I’d be in the host’s ear. And I wasn’t. But I know a lot of people put a lot of effort into it. I was sitting in my living room getting updates about what was happening. It was a chaotic night, but I’m an optimist. Ultimately, the great thing that came out of that night was it showed how much significant interest there is in Love Is Blind. I really appreciated that. (Laughs.)

Is it too soon to ask if you’re thinking of attempting it again?

Andy Cohen said it’s a bad idea to do a live reunion, and I tend to agree with that creatively. Would we do a live reunion again? Possibly, but what is the benefit? I’d have to think about it and obviously talk to my partners about the real benefit of going live. A quick turnaround, sure, but we’d have to analyze if there’s a real benefit. And if we were to do it again, I would most likely be there.

It’s funny you mention Andy, because I doubt that the recent Vanderpump Rules reunion special would have been as compelling if it hadn’t been edited.

It wouldn’t have been. You have to think … if you’re excited to watch live, why are you excited to watch live? Because you don’t want to have spoilers. You want to be there as it happens. Does it really matter if it’s live or not? Whether that registers with the average audience, I don’t know.

Married at First Sight still tops at Lifetime.

Married at First Sight still tops at Lifetime. Lifetime / Courtesy Everett Collection

You recently staged a queer version of the relationship show The Ultimatum, but there’s been a lot of frustration that queer individuals remain largely left out of dating shows. Is there a world in which you’d do a gay version of Love Is Blind?

TV should be broad and reflective of our world. That’s what the unscripted space does the best. It’s to our advantage — and certainly to the audience’s advantage — to be as representative as we possibly can be. And in the dating show space, there has absolutely been a dearth of representation. When I was an agent, I worked with the guys at Evolution to sell Boy Meets Boy to Bravo. That didn’t last. Perfect Match, surprisingly to me, got a tremendous amount of positive feedback based on one very brief bisexual representation. It showed that there’s a real hunger and desire for increased representation. I’m excited that we did do Queer Love, and I’d be excited to do more of that.

But it depends on the format?

We’re never going to make everybody happy. People are like, “Why don’t you do a queer version of Love Is Blind?” Sure, I’d love to. But you have to think about the logistics of a show. You don’t want it to be knee-jerk. In the straight version of Love Is Blind, you’ve got all the men here and all the women there. Now imagine it was an entirely queer cast. You wouldn’t produce it the same way. You couldn’t. Everyone would need to be isolated. It would be a completely different experience. You’d have to completely rethink the set and how you cast it. That doesn’t mean it’s not necessarily possible. The Ultimatum is super easy to do a fluid version, a queer version, a gay version, a straight version, whatever. As a format, it’s totally built for that — Perfect Match as well. It’d be easy to do the Boy Meets Boy version of The Bachelor, because that’s basically what that show was.

Speaking of playing with formats, could you ever pull off an all-star season of Love Is Blind?

You can’t take away the blind part of it. That’s what makes it fascinating. We have Perfect Match now, and you’ve seen people from Love Is Blind go there.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the July 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.



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