It doesn’t take long for viewers to figure out Fox’s “Labor of Love” is no ordinary dating show.
The 15 men aren’t just vying for the love of gorgeous 42-year-old Chicagoan Kristy Katzmann but are being judged for their potential to be good fathers.
In fact, the producers don’t dilly dally. The very first “challenge” is to test the viability of each man’s baby-making prowess, so to speak, by checking their sperm count. With everyone watching outside, each guy enters a mobile collection center to generate a sample. A fertility doctor later announces some of the results, crowning the man with the greatest number of sperm while judiciously omitting the name of the guy at the bottom.
“It was super uncomfortable,” said Katzmann, a former acupuncturist who now sells nutritional supplements. “But nobody quit, so I realized these men were serious and here for the right reasons.”
“Labor of Love,” which was shot in the state of Georgia early last year, debuts Thursday at 9 p.m. on Fox and runs for eight episodes.
The host is none other than Kristin Davis, who played sweet Charlotte on HBO’s seminal relationship show “Sex and the City.” Davis, 56, is unmarried but has two adopted children and immediately connected with the premise.
“We were thrilled beyond words when she signed on,” said executive producer Anne Walls, a former associate producer for “Project Runway.” “She’s warm and intelligent and found her own path to motherhood. And she was part of the most iconic female friendship series ever.”
“Labor of Love” touches upon many trends in families today: People are getting married less often, and those who do get married are doing so later in life. And single women who choose to raise children on their own is hardly a foreign concept.
“There are so many choices now, for men and women, in terms of how they become parents and what their family might look like,” said Davis, who is also an executive producer. “I am proud that our show can examine these very real options and hopefully allow the audience to think and discuss their own thoughts about the many shapes a family can take.”
Katzmann is not forced to pick any of the guys at the end of the series to marry or even date. If none of the guys work out, she said she is willing to raise her child on her own.
But she said she would prefer to find a compatible man to be by her side as she raises a family.
“When we started to develop ‘Labor of Love,’ I expected many women would relate to this topic,” Davis said, “but I was surprised by how many men also found themselves in the situation of wanting to start a family and finding it difficult to find a partner who was on the same timeline.”
The men, who ranged in ages from 36 to 46, were chosen not just for looks but back story and came from all over the country. There’s a former wrestler. There’s a dude who looks like he might have been a former cast member of “Jersey Shore.” One Southern dude likes to drink and tout his rural roots. There’s a doctor, a financial manager, a tennis instructor and a gym manager. And there’s a super conservative man whose actual name is Budge.
Davis herself sifted through the tapes of 60 of the men seeking to be on the show. And the final cast, she felt, came out strong. “There was a lot more emotion from the men than I expected, and they formed very real friendships, which I also didn’t expect,” she said.
Laurie Girion, one of the producers, said the guys by the fact they were older “had a lot more to draw on” than men in their 20s: “The conversations were rich. The engagement is more entertaining.”
This doesn’t mean all the men are fully evolved. After Katzmann dispenses with one of the guys, he departs her residence and urinates on the house — while she watches. “That was shocking,” she said.
While many dating show tropes are brought into play such as the elimination process and the dates themselves, the producers provide more context about the contestants by interviewing their family members, who provide amusing bon mots.
“We wanted it to feel like a rom com,” said producer Michael “Spike” Van Briesen, whose credits including “Millionaire Matchmaker,” “The X Factor” and “The Hills.” The imagery of the interviews, he noted, deliberately evokes the classic 1989 film “When Harry Met Sally.”
Producers spent a long time hunting for the right lead, but the minute they interviewed Katzmann in person, they knew they had their woman.
For Katzmann, the show came just at the right juncture in her life.
Katzmann, who spent her 20s and early 30s focused on career, got married in her mid-30s and thought that she could start a family then. But she said she may have forced the issue on the wrong guy, and they divorced just a few months later.
After that disappointment, at age 39, she froze some of her viable eggs, realizing if she wanted children, this was one option, albeit an expensive one. “I wish I had done it earlier,” she said.
After the divorce, she had already gone on plenty of regular dates knowing she was seeking someone who could be a dad. But bringing that up during a first date was a turnoff for many guys, she said.
At least with this show, fatherhood is such a major aspect of the process, the producers had the word emblazoned in lights on the living room wall. “They come downstairs for a drink, and they can’t forget it!” Katzmann said.
Katzmann is no stranger to reality dating shows. At age 29, she was part of the cast for “The Bachelor” in 2007 seeking Brad Womack’s heart but was cut early. (He didn’t end up proposing to anybody.)
“The stakes this time feel a lot greater than they did” when she did “The Bachelor,” she said.
With none of her friends and family to support her for most of the process, she leaned heavily on Davis, who offered a wise outsider view of what was going on. “She was able to provide me insights, sometimes aspects about the men I hadn’t even thought about,” she said.
The state of Georgia is featured heavily in the first four episodes Fox made available for screening. They camped at George Washington Carver Park in Acworth. Katzmann took one of the men to an Atlanta Hawks game at State Farm Arena where they were conveniently featured on the “kiss cam.” And she spent a lovely overnight trip to Tybee Island with another prospect.
Katzmann has largely lived in Chicago but is familiar with Atlanta because her older sister lives here. Davis, too, spent a fair amount of time in the city while growing up in Columbia, South Carolina.
“I am always surprised by how much the city has grown while still keeping its warmth and charm,” Davis said. “My kids loved being there too!”
“Labor of Love” debuts at 9 p.m. Thursday on Fox
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.
Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.