What went so wrong with Netflix's 'Love is Blind' reunion livestream attempt
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
This was supposed to be a huge, must-watch event. Netflix had been hyping the "Love Is Blind" reunion episode. It was supposed to kick off primetime Sunday night, live on Netflix, but...
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: OK, so it's still not working.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Is the "Love Is Blind" reunion delayed? Is anyone else here with me? Like...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Do you think somebody may have gotten in a fight?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: All the money I paid Netflix. All the streamers and people they have, and this is what we get, right? Right.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I spent three hours trying to get this episode to load. Why were you guys not prepared?
SUMMERS: This was not the kind of drama fans were expecting. Instead of a rehash of the season's ups and downs and juicy updates on the participants' lives, viewers got error messages and loading screens. The show's co-hosts, Nick and Vanessa Lachey, jumped on Instagram live.
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VANESSA LACHEY: Don't turn the channel. Don't stream something else. Don't go to the bathroom.
NICK LACHEY: We're coming for you.
V LACHEY: We're coming for you. Stick around.
N LACHEY: See you soon.
V LACHEY: See you soon.
SUMMERS: To be clear, fans did not see them soon. Netflix scrapped the live part of the episode and taped the show instead and released it yesterday. It was just the second time Netflix had tried to air something live - a tactic to try to win over viewers as streaming platforms are jostling for eyeballs.
To make sense of all of this drama, we're going to hit up our group chat. We've got Aisha Harris from our Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast and NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Hey, y'all.
AISHA HARRIS, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: So I have to admit, I don't think I can make sense of this, but I'll try.
SUMMERS: All right. So Aisha, I guess we're going to start with you here. You are going to be our professor - our guide through the "Love Is Blind" world. Can you just start by taking us to Sunday night? Why did Netflix pick this particular event for a livestream?
HARRIS: Well, it's kind of ironic - right? - 'cause Netflix is the one who kind of blew off this idea of doing things live. And, you know, we're going to drop every single episode at the same time so you can binge it. And so it seems like now they're kind of realizing that there is such a thing still as appointment television. You see people still tuning in every week to watch shows - weekly shows, like "Succession." And so in their mind, it seemed like a great idea to do, but it seems like maybe the technology was not quite there or it just couldn't handle the amount of people who were going to check it out.
SUMMERS: Yeah. And, I mean, at this point, do we even know what went wrong that caused the "Love Is Blind" live episode to kind of just go off the rails?
HARRIS: It's not clear to me. Eric, I don't know about you.
DEGGANS: Yeah, we don't know. We don't know what went wrong. And I'm surprised that people are surprised that there are problems with the streamer because HBO Max, in particular, has always had problems with its technology and often has glitches when something really popular goes up on the site. So part of this is, I think, it's the streaming age, you know? When a platform tries a new technology, sometimes it's not going to work.
SUMMERS: I mean, this all, to me, raises a question about the genre of reality TV, which I watch a good deal of. And when I first heard that Netflix was going to make a live reunion event for "Love Is Blind," I was kind of surprised, and I wondered if a live event actually works for a reality show because, I mean, reality TV is successful because of the edit. I mean, the most juicy, conflict-laden, spicy moments get the spotlight. They're plucked from hours of hours of footage. So do you all think this format works?
HARRIS: Yeah. I mean, Andy Cohen, who has been doing "The Real Housewives" reunion specials for years now, actually responded to the Netflix kind of fiasco around this. And he's basically said, you know, we only did one live reunion special. And to your point, Juana - like, you want to have the edited version. You want to have the part where we're just getting to the actual conflict. And when you don't have - especially in the form of Nick Lachey and Vanessa Lachey - I'm sorry, but they're not the best at hosting or moderating...
DEGGANS: Really (laughter)?
HARRIS: Yeah. And so when you allow them to sort of banter unfiltered and unedited, it just makes it a laborious experience. I don't think we needed a full, like, 90 minutes. We could have cut this down to a short hour, and it would have been fine.
DEGGANS: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right. If they're going to do something like this live, you need to have better hosts who know how to handle moments in the moment. But the thing that was interesting to me about all of this is that there is a real need in the TV audience for appointment television. You know, a lot of people said that they kind of dropped off of waiting for the "Love Is Blind" reunion to watch "Succession." You know, there's a need out there in the audience. There's a desire for some kind of appointment television. When a show is really engaging people, they want to see it when it's immediately available 'cause they don't want to be spoiled and they want to have the experience as soon as possible.
SUMMERS: So I'm curious - I mean, you guys have both brought up this idea of appointment television, appointment watching - this idea that all of us gather around the TV or whatever, same place, same time, to watch the same thing. Do you think that any of the streaming platforms have succeeded in creating a return to this?
DEGGANS: Well, I would say Amazon has done a pretty good job with sporting events. Minor glitches when they first started doing it, but it seems like they really kind of have that down now. Also, YouTube TV has done a great job, I think. And some streaming services have taken to using YouTube TV to help them stream live events, which might also - maybe that's something that Netflix should have thought of too.
HARRIS: Yeah. I mean, YouTube - yeah, Hulu is the same way. I use Hulu for watching a lot of live things, including things like the Oscars. It still feels, in a way, like the Wild West when it comes to appointment television because you're working with so many different ways now - not just having cable, but also having various platforms, and then making sure that your audience knows which platform these things are going to be on.
SUMMERS: We have talked a lot about the ecosystem in which this episode existed and all the things that went wrong in the attempt to broadcast the show live. But big question - the reunion itself - did it deliver for these fans who were sitting in front of their screens, waiting for hours for it to show up?
HARRIS: (Laughter) I mean, look, I'm a hardcore - fan feels overblown.
HARRIS: But I've watched every episode, and I watch them almost as soon as they are available to me. I think that there were definitely some moments that played out in an interesting way in this sort-of-live/not-live format, especially when it came down to the quote-unquote, "villains" of this season, including Irina. Vanessa Lachey kept defending "Love Is Blind," the producers, for things that seemed a little bit - if not unethical, just, like, kind of revealing the sort of strings that are being pulled behind the scenes, including, perhaps, manipulating time within the way things play out in reality versus the way we see them play out on the show.
DEGGANS: (Gasp) They did that? Really?
HARRIS: I know. I know. So I think that it delivered. But again, it was 90 minutes long, and it didn't need to be.
DEGGANS: For me, it feels like every generation kind of needs to have the quote-unquote, "reality dating show" that speaks to them. And watching this just reminded me of specials that I saw "The Bachelor" do, you know, seriously, like, 15 years ago, you know? It's like - it's the same script. It's the same reactions. "The Bachelor" has been around for a long time. You know, "Love Is Blind" is coming along now for a newer generation. But a lot of the stuff they were doing is the same stuff that these other shows have been doing for 20 years.
SUMMERS: Eric, I'll make sure they have your number when they're looking for somebody to host the next reunion for "Love Is Blind."
DEGGANS: My price tag is going to be really high.
DEGGANS: That's all I got to say.
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SUMMERS: That's Eric Deggans, NPR's TV critic, and Aisha Harris, co-host of our Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. Thanks to both of you.
HARRIS: Thank you.
DEGGANS: Thank you. This was a pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO YOU WANNA DANCE")
98 DEGREES: (Singing) Ooh, come on, baby. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.