When TLC aired the special "Little People: Just Married," last January, they were in for a pleasant surprise when a sizeable audience tuned in to find out more about the newly married Bill Klein and Jen Arnold. The fact that Bill and Jen are both under 4 feet tall was almost an afterthought once audiences got a taste of their striking personalities, fiery spirit and zest for life. Due to the positive response, TLC quickly ordered "The Little Couple," which went on to average 1.1 million viewers during its freshman run. As season two kicks off tonight, our Jim Halterman talked to executive producers Eric Schotz and Ruth Rivin about whether kids are around the corner for the newlyweds and what health problems are going to be part of the upcoming episodes.
Jim Halterman: When the "Just Married" special aired in January, did you already have an idea that Bill and Jen were destined for a regular series?
Eric Schotz: When we started shooting we realized we had something special. Part of that is when you look at them, you can't help but notice their size; it's impossible to get past it. What happens is that you spend very little time with them and all of a sudden you forget and it becomes a very normal relationship. But then when you introduce them to someone else who hasn't seem them you're reminded every second of how small they are relative to average size. When you forgot about their size... that's what made it special.
JH: The dwarfism definitely becomes secondary.
ES: I think that's what it is. With Jen in particular, she's so smart and so bright and so on top of her game that it's infectious. You don't realize she's sitting on three phonebooks when you're sitting down with her.
JH: What was the motivation for Bill and Jen to do the show? Obviously the success of "Little People, Big World" showed there is interest out there.
Ruth Rivin: I believe that a big reason they're doing the show is to inspire other people and to show people that you can have a disability and you can still have a great, full life. Jen talks about how you can live happily ever after.
JH: The fact that we're also on their journey with their newlywed life is a strong part of the narrative but their love for each other is the true core of the show, right?
ES: Yeah, I think what happens in a show like this is the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. We found that the storylines that are different or interesting don't work as well as them just going to the market and going shopping. It's the simplest and easiest things that you take for granted and you see them do that mimics everyone else's life and that's what makes it interesting. Pair that with this deep-seeded love and I think you have a show that goes to men, women, family and it's funny.
JH: I know the finale last season was about Bill and Jen exploring having children. Where are we at with that in season two?
RR: The last episode of season one ended with them going to a specialist in Baltimore who specializes in little people pregnancies and basically what she said was that it is physically possible for you to get pregnant. 'Is it smart for you to get pregnant? You need to explore some other options.' Season two, episode one begins with them going to another doctor, a pulmonologist to test lung capacity. If Jen gets pregnant it's going to decrease her lung capacity greatly and so they have to do some testing on that to see if it's even possible or is it completely life threatening.
ES: 25% [chance] is going to be like Jen, 25% is going to be like Bill, 25% is going to be absolutely average and 25% is a non-viable pregnancy. Those are the genetics of it. Now if she's pregnant and she has to carry the baby, the pressure of the lungs is what becomes intensely life-threatening. Like any other couple in this world, especially in this age where people are having babies a little bit later, there's a balancing of work, baby, life, future plans... that's a lot on the table for any couple.
RR: The clock is definitely ticking for them.
JH: Oprah was on the show last season and now Dr. Oz stops by during this year, right?
ES: They have a long history with Dr. Oz and they've done a lot shows with Dr. Oz over the years. He's one of those guys that really sort of understands them and brings them on about being a little couple as much as them talking about dwarfism. They are just very normal in every aspect of their lives except for one.
JH: How was the show affected their level of public recognition?
ES: Jen travels a lot for work as does Bill. They get stopped in the airport and it's not 'You're Bill and Jen' but 'You're the Little Couple!' Even by themselves! Bill was going to a football game and went to the Cowboy-Giants game and he was in the stands and somebody yelled 'You're the Little Couple' and there was no Jen, just Bill. People just love them. It's kind of interesting that a couple who is so down to earth and normal have become reality stars. I think that that's the whole point. We've been in this negative spin in reality and I think there's a reason why there's a negative spin. People are putting their children at risk in balloons to become famous? There are some people who are down to earth who still become engaging and I think that's where the show lives and breathes... in its normalcy, not its oddity.
JH: I wasn't going to bring up that other TLC show that shall remain nameless...
ES: I don't know the particular ins and outs of that particular show that you're not referring to but the idea is that negativity comes out in Americans. They love their stars and they love their stars to fail and they love to rebuild up their stars. ['The Little Couple'] has all the elements and drama of a great love story about two people who care about each other. They go after each other like any other couple do and we're okay showing that. They're highly competitive beyond norm and against each other. In one episode, they happened to each go fishing but not together but it was all about 'I'm going to catch a bigger fish than you're going to catch.' The fish Jen caught was bigger than she is so it's pretty damn funny. This season, we're also going to have a lot more characters populate the show. Their dog, Rocky is going to off to training school. The dog will become a character. Friends will also become a part of the show and Jen's mom, who has also been a part of the show and someone people love, is also going to be back on the show.
RR: They're also still trying to figure out buying a house and they're actively looking to get into a new house so that will be very interesting.
ES: And I think we're going to be following more about Bill's business. We didn't even touch it during the first season because Jen's is life and death and we got a lot of emails asking 'What is Bill's job?' And it's hard to understand what he does but he is having problems like everyone with the economy so there's lots of drama there, too.
"The Little Couple" kicks off season two tonight on TLC at 10:00/9:00c.