Above: Chris Harrison – Photograph: courtesy Disney/ABC Home Entertainment and TV Distribution
Chris Harrison’s television career has been forever linked to all things related to tears, roses and relationships. For twenty-five seasons he’s hosted ABC’s reality romances The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, the hookup-inducing spinoff Bachelor in Paradise and more recently, the Miss America Pageant. Yet on a soundstage at Stamford’s Connecticut Film Center, there’s not a rosebud or rejected reality suitor in sight. Last summer we caught up with the dapper Harrison as he handed out cash (instead of coveted date cards) in his role as host of the fourteenth season of the syndicated game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.
Parent company Disney/ABC Home Entertainment announced last spring that Harrison would assume the role originated in prime time by Greenwich resident Regis Philbin. The former sportscaster quickly settled into his new gig—and part-time life in Stamford and Old Greenwich—with the same telegenic ease with which he’s advised and consoled dejected lovers at The Bachelor mansion for thirteen years.
When Harrison’s Millionaire season debuted in September, he hoped audiences would appreciate how the game show has been tweaked to better resemble the 2002 original that was a television phenomenon. “To be honest, the show sort of lost its way for a while, and we’ve returned to its roots,” Harrison says. “We’re trying to go back to the old-school Regis style of hosting and quite frankly, that’s my kind of hosting.”
Harrison says he’s discovered some parallels between his dual positions as reality romance host and game show rainmaker. In effect, his Millionaire job is to foster, well, a love connection between the audience and participants tapped to compete for cash by answering a series of increasingly challenging questions. “For the contestants, it’s a journey too,” Harrison says in a tongue-in-cheek reference to how The Bachelor/The Bachelorette contestants ubiquitously refer to dating twenty-five potential mates at the same time. On Millionaire, “it’s a different forum, but one of the things I’m trying to elicit [from contestants] is, what’s their story? Why should we care if they win? Regis was the godfather of this show, and I consider myself a student of his genius.”
This is Millionaire’s second year taping at the Stillwater Road CFC studios, a warehouse-style complex that’s also home to The People’s Court and HGTV’s Flea Market Flip. (Past shows include Showtime’s The Big C, the TBS sitcom Are We There Yet?, and the short-lived reboot of soaps One Life to Live and All My Children.)
Harrison notes that in his many encounters with local fans—he affectionately calls them “Bachelor Nation”—he’s surprised at how few know Millionaire tapes locally. “They are shocked we are here and I love the fact that I can invite them to come sit in our audience.”
Besides being downright hospitable, the Dallas native and amicably divorced father of two went out of his way to make his time here a family affair. He rented a “big old house” in Old Greenwich and brought along his children for much of the two months he spent taping.
“The nice part is we got to have a real summer here,” says Harrison, whose permanent base is in Los Angeles. “I’m a Texas boy who went to school in Oklahoma. I’ve never spent any real time in Connecticut—lots in New York—but we love it here,” he says.
Despite a hectic taping schedule, he got out and about. He enjoyed Alive @ Five concerts, beached it at Tod’s Point and took in the July 4 festivities at the Stanwich Club.
What did fans here want to chat about? Harrison says they’ve wanted to share their strong feelings about the messy love triangle recent bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe was in with final two suitors Nick Viall and Shawn Booth. (She handed her last rose to now-fiancé Booth.) “It’s a side product of the show that people feel like they know me and can tell me their opinions, and I welcome that,” he says. “It also gives me a chance to tell them about Millionaire.”