In Love Is Blind, Chris Coelen engineered a social experiment, designed to answer major two questions: Can love conquer all? And can people fall in love without ever seeing one another?
Hosted by Nick and Vanessa Lachey, the Netflix reality series follows 30 men and women that hope to be loved for who they are on the inside, as they engage in a novel approach to dating. Over the course of 10 days, the singles go on a series of speed dates within “pods”—private chambers linked by an opaque wall—which allow for intimate conversation. Free from the distractions of physical appearance, and the physical world as a whole, they are able to engage in flirtation and courtship on the basis of a deeper kind of connection.
As the founding CEO of Kinetic Content, Coelen has dabbled in social experiments before, with series such as Married at First Sight. “We’ve done a lot of work in the relationship genre, and it’s an area I’m particularly interested in,” he says, “always looking to tap into what big themes are, in terms of where we are, as a society or a culture.”
From Coelen’s perspective, Love Is Blind seemed like a series that would resonate, given the universally relatable themes and questions at its core. “Love Is Blind is pretty simply about whether love—pure love—can overcome all of the obstacles that can get in its way in today’s world,” he notes. “Regardless of who you are, what you look like, where you’re from, what you feel that you have or are lacking, everyone wants to be loved for who they are on the inside.”
While there are many potential barriers between people in the incredibly divided modern age, Coelen felt that technology is one of the greatest hindrances to the development of successful relationships. “When you have a conversation with someone, we tend to be distracted, checking our devices. If you’re on a dating app, you have so many choices that you’re constantly going to the next one, or you become focused on very superficial things, or people discount you for very superficial things. We all feel sort of disposable,” the EP says. “This show set out to address those things.”
As Coelen explains, these insights into the modern world of dating informed the format of Love Is Blind, and the set of “very loose rules” with which it was set up, one of which was that participants had to disconnect from technology for much of their time on the show. Following 10 days of intensive conversation, the men and women in the pods could propose to a potential partner. “If you fell and love, and if you chose to get engaged, and if that proposal was accepted, then you would be allowed to see each other. Otherwise, you wouldn’t,” the EP says. “And if you got engaged, your wedding date would be set in four weeks.”
After seeing one another for the first time, couples that got engaged in the pods would go through all of the normal steps of a relationship, at an accelerated pace. “We sent them on a romantic getaway after they got engaged and saw each other, because it felt like they should have a moment without any distractions, to try to turn their emotional connection into a physical one,” Coelen says. “Then, they moved in together and prepared for their weddings, and got the chance to spend time with their friends and family, and make sure that they felt like they were doing the right thing before they got married.”
In casting the series’ Atlanta-based first season, Coelen searched for people with a genuine desire for a lifetime commitment, or who wanted to explore the idea of making one. Having prospective participants go through background checks and psychological testing, the EP put together a group diverse in age, race, socioeconomic background and physical type, also ensuring that all of the singles featured were based in the same area.
“It’s a show about overcoming lots of potential obstacles, whether that be looks, or age, or background, or ethnicity, asking the question as to whether those actually need to be obstacles, those sorts of differences. But we didn’t feel like geography should be an obstacle,” he says. “It felt like if we were really going to give these people a shot at making it work, having someone from Portland and someone from Miami [was] maybe a bridge too far.”
While producing Season 1, Coelen was both scared and excited by the total unpredictability of what would unfold on the show. “It’s not a show of gotchas, or producers pulling strings. There was no guarantee anybody was going to do anything,” he says. “Nobody had to fall in love; nobody had to get engaged; nobody had to make it to the altar; nobody had to get married. It was their free will that led them to each of those steps.”
Heading into the shoot, the show’s singles were certainly skeptical of the experiment at hand, and its viability, as a matchmaking system. “I think they thought, ‘Hey, you know what? It’ll an adventure. Maybe I’ll meet somebody. [But] who knows?’” Coelen says. “I don’t think any one of them ever really felt like this was going to happen to them, what happened to them, but it did.”
Ultimately, the series became a pop culture phenomenon, and the social experiments’ results surpassed the expectations of producers and participants alike. “The people who met one another in the pod described that experience as being completely unlike any other they’ve had in their life,” the EP says. “They felt like they knew the person on the other side of the wall better than they had ever known anyone in their entire lives, and described it in very transformative terms.”
In Season 1, eight couples got engaged, and two ended up getting married. The results were such that the production team hit upon a limit, in terms of the amount of stories they could tell in 11 episodes. “[Out of] eight total couples, we followed six. We had to make choices, but I think that’s part of the exciting thing about the show,” Coelen says. “Again, you’re riding, as a producer, without too many rails, and what happens, happens.”
While the number of engagements resulting from Season 1 caught Coelen off guard, he believes they’re a testament to the core idea of the show, one in which he really believes. “People say the most important factor in the success of a long-term relationship is trust and being vulnerable, and so often, you see things not work out because things like a lack of trust, or a lack of vulnerability, get in the way,” he says. “Here, people went in with that. They formed their relationships based on that. So, actually, when you think about it from that perspective, it’s not that surprising to me that the people who chose to stay together are still together.”
Premiering in February, Love Is Blind was renewed for a second and third season the following month. In March, it was announced that Season 2 will take place in Chicago. The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on production aside, Coelen has no idea yet about the direction in which future seasons will go, and feels that’s a good thing. “This is the kind of show that will end up taking us in a lot of unexpected directions that I have no way to predict right now, “ he says, “and to me, to be able to ensure that that opportunity is there—for us, as producers, and for the participants, and for the audience, ultimately—that’s my main goal.”