Reality dating shows often test contestants’ strength, bravery or confidence. In a quest for love, they run through obstacle courses, scream through bungee-jumps and get up onstage to tell stories, make jokes or model.
“We thought the men were just going to leave over what was going to happen,” Davis says in a phone interview, recalling that first challenge. “We just thought they were going to run away down the driveway.”
The men did not, in fact, run away. They submitted their samples, and Alan, a 39-year-old writer from South Africa, was crowned the most fertile.
Katzmann isn’t just looking for a sperm donor. She wants it all: a loving husband who wants to have children. She’s realistic, too — if she doesn’t fall in love on this reality show, she’s open to being a platonic co-parent with one of her contestants, or passing over all of them and becoming a single mother.
Unlike other reality dating shows (ahem “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette”) that often treat one’s 30s as nearly too late to fall in love and start a family — and ending up alone at the end of such a journey as a failure — “Labor of Love” is straightforward about the fact that many people are pairing off and having children later in life. At age 41, Katzmann isn’t cast as a sad woman, desperate to settle down. She’s portrayed as a woman who knows what she wants. And if she doesn’t find it at the end of a reality TV show, she’ll make it happen on her own.
Katzmann went “The Bachelor” route once before. She was a contestant on Brad Womack’s 2007 season, making it to Week 5, when Womack eliminated her, saying she was “mature and composed,” and perhaps “too refined” for him. Well, now Katzmann has found a more refined way to look for love on television. Though, yes, the show is still a bit silly and lighthearted.
In Davis, who played Charlotte York Goldenblatt on “Sex and the City,” Katzmann has a wise guide. Davis, 55, knows what it’s like to build a family on your own — she’s unmarried and adopted two children. Davis notes that she and her friends would privately discuss the fact that they wanted children and didn’t have them yet, but “it seemed like there wasn’t necessarily the freedom to talk about it in a larger cultural sense.”
“Labor of Love” is an attempt to do that. Davis reveals that, during filming, she would often retreat to the garage where producers could watch the show’s raw footage roll in real time, just to get a sense of what the male contestants, ages 36 to 46, were saying about how their lives had gone and what they still wanted to accomplish. “They had a lot of really deep and interesting conversations about the subject of feeling regret that they didn’t think of this earlier, that they were so focused on career,” Davis says. She added that she was “impressed and illuminated” to hear how deeply the men yearned to have families, conversations they might not generally have in front of women.
“Some of them would say: 'I feel embarrassed. All my co-workers have all these weekend plans about kids, and what they’re going to do, and they invite me along and I’m like the uncle, which is fine for a while. But after a while, I feel sad and embarrassed,’ ” Davis recalls. “Men are socialized not to talk about their feelings out in the open, I get that. That’s our culture in a lot of ways, and I feel for them that they’re holding all this in.”
Might “Labor of Love” change viewers’ notions of single men and women in their 40s? “I don’t ever really feel like you can change someone’s mind with a TV show,” Davis says. “I think you can illuminate other people’s existence and that might create change in some people. … I do feel like the things that we’re exposed to in entertainment can shift our point of view or open something up that we hadn’t thought about.”
Unlike “The Bachelor,” which is hyper-focused on getting the lead engaged by the end of the season, Davis says she isn’t attached to a specific outcome for Katzmann. “I have no investment in Kristy getting married,” Davis says. “I have an investment in Kristy getting happy, being happy, being satisfied with her choices, having a baby, getting the things that she wants. And whatever way that works out for her is whatever way that works out. … You have choices. I’m there to represent that.”
Katzmann won’t offer spoilers about how the season ends, but she will say that she’s happy. “I am as happy as I’ve ever been,” she says, adding that she’s continued on the path toward motherhood since the show wrapped last year.
At the end of each episode, there is no rose ceremony. Instead, Davis and Katzmann sit down and talk about who Katzmann will keep around and who she’ll let go. Then Katzmann tells each man she’s sending home why she doesn’t think they’re a good fit. “It was not easy to go through those elimination ceremonies,” Katzmann says. “I wish I could just hand out a rose.” But having direct conversations was the right thing to do, Katzmann says.
Similarly, she hopes dating during a pandemic will help singles have more honest conversations with one another and root out the flakiness of dating culture.
“There is nothing like connecting with conversation, and this forces us to do that, to really get to know someone and establish a connection based on nothing else other than shared ideas and interests and ‘Do I have fun talking to this person?’ ” Katzmann says. “I’ll be curious myself to see what happens on the other side of this as far as relationships go — of all sorts, not even just dating.”