Couples considering marriage date other people in a supervised social experiment
Atlanta’s busy powerhouse producer Will Packer has tackled all sorts of topics, from sharks to the Atlanta child murders to basketball scandals. But he has a soft heart for exploring the complexities of Black relationships.
Pairing his existing OWN show “Ready to Love,” he is introducing a new reality program on the same network called “Put a Ring On It.” Shot at a metro Atlanta mansion in August during the midst of the pandemic, several Black couples in long-term relationships are given a chance to openly date other people. At the end of the 10 episodes, the four couples have to decide to “put a ring on it” or go their separate ways.
Packer said LaBeach was the right person for the job: “She comes across as a very well qualified, knowledgeable friend for the couples."
She has made appearances on other reality shows but has never done this level of heavy lifting. “I was surprised how well the producers were able to make me both host and guide at the same time," she said. "They really trusted me a lot. They trusted what I’ve done in my career over the years.”
LaBeach said her goal isn’t necessarily to ensure the couples get married. Rather, she wants everyone’s wants and needs laid out clearly and to provide a safe space for them to talk about issues of trust, communication, forgiveness and fear of vulnerability.
“You see these two people who come with family influences, their own past, their wounds and aspirations," LaBeach said. “It’s not until I gain their trust that they really start to say, ‘This is who I am, this is what I’m coming to the table with.’”
The dates with other people “will peel back the layers and get to the core of the relationships,” Packer said. “If it’s something you’ve been holding on to for convenience or circumstance, bringing someone else into the mix will rip that apart.”
Packer isn’t big on “Bachelor”-style antics and stage management. “I like it to flow as naturally as possible,” he said. “Sit back and let the cameras capture things and don’t crash story lines. I think when you do that, you get the most interesting interactions.”
The pandemic, he added, “does weird things to relationships. It brings people closer or makes them want to run. The distractions of travel and other people are gone."
The pandemic limited the types of dates they could set up. There were no concerts, no sporting events or anything involving a crowd. Rather, there were a lot of outdoor settings and patios and largely empty restaurants. Fortunately, nobody caught the coronavirus during the month-long shoot.
“We had stringent protocols,” LaBeach said. “No hugs. No touching. All the things we’re not used to. Crew walked around spraying and wiping everything down.”
Regardless of the results, Packer said he thinks it was a positive experience for all the couples and “people who watch the show will learn as well.”
LaBeach said the couples also learned from each other, much like they do on WE-TV’s 'Marriage Boot Camp."
“They see other couples mirroring something they’ve been through,” she said. “'Oh, boy. That’s me! That’s not who I want to be. That’s not how I want to show up.' It’s really eye opening for many of the couples."
“Put a Ring On It,” 10 p.m. Fridays on OWN, starting October 23, 2020.
About the Author
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years.