Modern dating is tough. With endless swiping, unanswered DMs and app fatigue, everyone can relate to the trials and tribulations of finding your match in 2022. So, why not go back to the 1800’s?
NBC’s new reality dating show, “The Courtship,” aims to bring chivalry back to love, while traveling to the Regency era. The social experiment brings 20-something suitors into the romantic storybook times of Jane Austen, essentially turning frat bros into knights in shining armor with the hope of winning over the heart of the series’ heroine, Nicole Remy, a real-life single who was plucked out of a nationwide casting call and sent across the pond to star in a TV show.
While “The Bachelorette” hands out roses, “The Courtship” determines who goes home with a final dance. Rather than limos, there are carriages. And instead of filming at a venue like the Bachelor Mansion or a tropical island with bikini-clad hopefuls, the production is in the U.K. at a castle that happened to be a shooting location for “Bridgerton.” (For what it’s worth, “The Courtship” was developed long before “Bridgerton” launched on Netflix and became a pop culture sensation.)
Remy, a USC grad and former Seattle Seahawks dancer who now works as a software engineer and a product manager, didn’t see the time machine twist as a gimmick. When she had heard about the show, she thought the Regency era set and props could present a unique way to find more meaningful connections.
“How many hours have we spent on dating apps just to feel like we’re going in circles?” Remy tells Variety. “Superficial swiping and potentially going on dates with guys based on physical characteristics alone wasn’t enough… we’re often living in a world that isn’t so focused on making true, deep connections with people. ‘The Courtship’ was breath of fresh air from that.”
While the promise of dating with the values of etiquette, chivalry and courtship was appealing to Remy, she figured, “Why not give a chance at love in a new way?” But she also knew there was a deeper meaning to her taking on the role of a lifetime, becoming the star of a major show, especially as many mainstream dating shows have been criticized for a lack of diversity over the years.
“I want to show that meaningful connections can still exist,” Remy says, “But more importantly, I want every girl who looks like me to find hope in this fantasy of finding true love, being valued and feeling beautiful.”
She continues, “Growing up, I never saw a princess that looked like me, so it was difficult to imagine myself feeling desired. I never saw a Black princess until I was in middle school, and a Black Barbie hadn’t been around until I had grown out of them. Even still, the doll had white characteristics and features. I never saw representation growing up, and I feel it’s important to use this platform to show girls that Black princesses have always existed, our stories just haven’t always been told.”
Originally picked up at Peacock, “The Courtship” was moved over to broadcast, now set to premiere Sunday night on NBC, signaling the promise the company has behind the dating show. The series will still stream on Peacock, but will aim for a bigger audience with a multi-platform rollout.
“We are always looking to discover a fresh take on a beloved format,” says Jenny Groom, EVP of entertainment unscripted content at NBCUniversal Television and Streaming. “Much like how ‘The Voice’ took the singing competition to the next level, ‘The Courtship’ elevates the experience by reimagining modern dating and experimenting with dating in Regency times.”
The NBC executive, who immediately loved the pitch from Endemol Shine North America right in room, adds: “The search for love is universally relatable. Who wouldn’t want to be immersed in a world where a group of suitors is vying for your affection in the most romantic ways possible?”
Here, one of the executive producers behind “The Courtship,” Sharon Levy, chief content officer at Endemol Shine North America, talks to Variety about the new series…
What do you think about the comparisons to “Bridgerton” and “The Bachelor?”
When something is popular in the culture, I welcome all comparisons. I’ve also seen it referred to the reality version of “Outlander” or the Jane Austen reality show. But it stands on its own.
The reality dating genre has been tough to crack. “The Bachelor” franchise has been the broadcast leader for nearly two decades. Why will “The Courtship” stand out?
I think this feels completely different. “The Bachelor” and “F-Boy Island” and “Love Island,” they all have their place. Recently with “Too Hot to Handle” and “Love Is Blind,” there have been a ton of great dating shows. I think a show works when it has something unique to say, and I do think that our social experiment of going back to one of the most romantic times in history and really focusing on romance — romance more than sex — is a very differentiating factor of this show.
There has been a resurgence in dating shows throughout the pandemic. We’ve seen tons of new shows pop up on streaming that have really struck a chord. Why do you think there’s been renewed interest in the dating genre?
I think everyone is just in the mood for a good show. Remember at the height of hospital procedurals, how there were? And they were all good, so we watched them. In the middle of the pandemic, everyone was saying we need escapism, and yet, “Mare of Easttown” is all anyone wanted to watch. I always like to think that if you put on a quality show with great, dramatic storytelling and a cast that people root for, you have something special.
Why go back to the Regency era for a modern-day dating show?
We always talk about social experiments in development. When you look at statistics and see how hard it is for singles now, so much goes into the never-ending scroll of a dating app and there is no end and that takes a toll on people’s minds. For us, we thought if we could take one woman and put her back in time and strip away the noise of screens and Instagram and not being brave enough to ask someone on a date in-person, could they find everlasting love? And ultimately, it’s our heroine’s decision. We are not following any misogynistic rules — we took the good from this time, and threw out the bad.
As fun as it is, how realistic is this show, in terms of finding a real partner in the real world? Of course, most people can’t go back in time to the Regency era and live in a castle…
Sure, you can’t go back into time and you can’t live in a castle, but as an individual, you can demand certain things from people who are after your heart — you can demand integrity, you can demand that they pick you up from home, you can demand that they don’t just DM you. I think sometimes the ease of social media and the ease of how we step onto an elevator and look at our phones and don’t look at anyone in the face, there are no mythical chance encounters on the subway anymore because everyone’s phone is in their face. So, I do think there are subtle reminders in this show that you could take into the modern world.
Are you hoping that viewers can take away elements from this time and bring them into their modern lives, after watching “The Courtship?”
Absolutely. At the end of the day, this is a show about one woman’s search for love, so my greatest hope is that everyone watching falls in love with Nicole and with her family, and our wish is that she finds love. And then along the way, you’re having a great time, you’re escaping your daily life because you’re living in this fantasy world. This is fun and funny. This is not homework. That said, I am also hoping that anyone watching takes something away and goes, “Huh! Maybe I should treat someone a little better. Maybe I should pick up the phone instead of DM’ing. Maybe I should write a letter. Where do I even buy a stamp?” There’s always something to learn from the past.
You have a woman of color leading the show. Was that a specific effort in casting?
We wanted to be very conscious about casting the best female for the show and finding out best heroine. But we made a very conscious effort to make sure that we were inclusive as possible in our casting, and looking at every other show and dissecting who did what. We set out to cast an amazingly well-rounded woman, and Nicole was the one who popped to the front.
How did you find Nicole?
When we first saw Nicole, she just lit up the room. We all just went, “Oh my god, she’s magic!” What was really great is how smart she is with so much intelligence and self-assuredness. The North Star for us has always been a Jane Austen heroine because those were very advanced female characters who were trapped in the norms of the time, but if you read any of her books, her heroines were always ten steps ahead. We made a promise to ourselves as producers that yes, we want to make an entertaining and dramatic and emotional arc, but we are well-intentioned in that we wanted a very special woman who represents women in a great way. She had all of those traits.
The show looks very big. And expensive! Can you give some insight on the production?
I am so happy when people say that. When you are setting out to make a show that feels and looks like a Jane Austen novel come to life, for it to work, it had to feel real. We wanted to have a social experiment that really felt like you could turn back time, and when you’re in a setting like that, it just helps everything feel real. For the viewers at home, you really want them to be swept up into this unbelievable romance — this adventure that, as a single girl, you would want to go on. We shot in Northern England at a castle. We had a ginormous crew. It was like a movie with tents and golf carts everywhere at this unbelievable location with swans and geese flying everywhere. You really did feel like you were somewhere else.
I imagine that everyone had to go through dance lessons, and costuming was a major component, as well. How long did the training and all of those elements take?
We shot this in the middle of COVID, so everyone had to quarantine. In the bubble, everyone was learning to dance and learning what fork to hold. It was great because the cast had something to do in their bubble quarantining in England when they got there. They took it really seriously, and we were all pleasantly surprised in how earnest the guys were in this experiment. When you put someone in an outfit that makes them feel grown-up, they act more grown-up. And then, other elements come out. It was really fascinating to watch. It felt good to hear 20-something suitors talk about taking these elements into their own dating lives, and thinking twice about certain things.
What do you envision for the future of the show, if you continue on with another season? Would you ever have a male star with female suitors, or will this always be led by a heroine?
We have conceived some ideas. The truth is, like a very good Jane Austen novel, there will be twists and turns, always.
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