Having hit ratings gold by bringing the past into the present with the hit series "High School Reunion," TV Land is diving headfirst into the romantic pool of reality television with its newest venture, "First Love, Second Chance." In this series, real life first loves are reunited to see if there is a second chance to re-spark their past romance and find the love they missed the first time around. In the first episode, for example, Garry was the foreign exchange student who fell for Star Lynn but 30 years have passed since they have seen each other. How do you bring two people together after so much time has passed and, also, how do you make that into a television show? Our Jim Halterman phoned Executive Producer Andrew Hoegl to find out the answers.
Jim Halterman: What was the starting off point for launching the show and finding the couples?
Andrew Hoegl: The show is actually a format that was brought over by ITV from Britain. It was done in Britain and TV Land came to us � myself and my partner Jonathan [Singer] � to freshen it up and Americanize it. So I think the convention that you see in our version is just a little bit bigger and more dramatic than the British version of the show. By far and away, the biggest challenge in the show is finding the couples. It's really needle-in-the-haystack casting. Everyone can reach back and think about who that person would be in their life but our challenge in casting is once we find an interesting character who has that person in mind then we have to track them down, find them, they have to one, still be available. Two, interested. And three, they ultimately have to be good for TV.
JH: What was the casting process, then? I've heard a lot of shows in this genre use reality show casting agencies.
AH: We hired a company that we work with often, Cornwell Casting, and they helped us out. We did a lot of different things. A lot of outreach on social networking sites. If you can imagine, in this day and age, this whole concept is coming up a lot because people are reconnecting with people through social networking sites and they're talking about the people in their lives so we did a lot of outreach there. We also had a deal with a company called MyLife.com, which is a social networking site that reconnects people from your past. They helped us in outreach as well [and] we found one of our couples where one was from Australia. It was a lot less about finding people who want to be on a reality TV show and a lot more about just reaching out to people who really had the desire to reconnect with that person in their life. By and large, we've done a lot of different reality shows and the cast members for this show were much less interested than being on TV and much more interested if there was a relationship there.
JH: Star Lynn mentions in the first episode about the different of fantasy and reality in terms of the memories people have about these past loves. Is that a consistent part of a lot of the stories?
AH: Yes, everyone sort of has an idea of what that person has become and the interesting thing to me, one of the most interesting things about producing this show, is that once these two people sat down and looked each other in the eye again it was like no time had passed and they just sort of picked up from where they left off.
JH: Without giving anything away, what did you find with happy endings or maybe not-so-happy-endings?
AH: Actually, the interesting thing to me is that they all ended very differently and they all made very different decisions after they had the opportunity to reconnect on how they wanted to move forward. Some decided to reignite and rekindle their relationship and some didn't but the thing that was really interesting to me is that regardless of what happens, you end up rooting for them to make the right choice. You're not always rooting for them to stay together but you're rooting for them to make the right choice.
JH: Because these people do have a history together, is one week ample time for them to figure out if they should truly be together or not?
AH: There's so much history in all these relationships that they really have an understanding of what that person is and what they would need from the relationship in order for it to change. Obviously, it's a very intense week but I feel that in every case they had the ammunition by the end of their time together to make that informed decision. And in the episodes, the friends meet them, their friends give them advice and oftentimes play devils advocate regarding the relationship so that really gives them an objective perspective on the choice that they're making.
JH: What was the biggest surprise for you in filming the show?
AH: Honestly, the thing that surprised me is how different all the stories ended up being. I really didn't know until the very last minute if it was completely going to work out. There was always potential for things to go off the track or get back on the track. To me, it was really interesting that there was so much variety in the relationships.
JH: Romance-based reality shows such as "The Bachelor" are so popular with audiences right now. Why do you think they draw viewers in?
AH: I think that everyone has a fantasy about the kind of relationship that they want. In this particular show, it isn't a game show like 'The Bachelor' is. This show has a play-along and then makes itself very timely with the way people are reconnecting through social networking. I think everyone wants to find that person who's perfect for them and the impetus of this show is 'Did I let go of that perfect person?' and there's a lot of play-a-long for [the viewer] like 'If I were to reconnect with that person in my life how would it go? Did I let that person go and they could have been the perfect person for me or did I make the right decision?'
"First Love, Second Chance" airs every Wednesday at 10:00/9:00c on TV Land.