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Dallas-born Harrison brokers "love," lives to tell about it as host of Bachelor, Bachelorette, Bachelor Pad

Dallas native and Bachelor/Bachelorette/Bachelor Pad host Chris Harrison brokered last month's slam-a-thon between former made-for-TV lovebirds Vienna Girardi and Jake Pavelka. ABC photos

BEVERLY HILLS -- In this year alone, Cupid-esque Chris Harrison has oh-so-earnestly segued from The Bachelor to The Bachelorette to the ongoing Bachelor Pad.

All three ABC love lost/gained entries have prospered in the 18-to-49-year-old Nielsen ratings, leading to even more work for the 39-year-old Dallas native and his new Harrison Productions. The former Oklahoma City sportscaster recently was named to host next year's 90th anniversary Miss America pageant, which is returning to ABC after traipsing through a variety of cable channels for the past several years.

Harrison, a graduate of Lake Highlands High School, also is to the TV Guide Network what his friend, Ryan Seacrest, is to E! He'll host its red carpet coverage of the August 29th Emmy Awards ceremony. And his fledging company is developing another celebrity-driven show for TV Guide that will replace Hollywood 411 after "we kind of blow that up," Harrison says during a recent ABC "All-Star Party" event.

Gossip-drenched, up-to-the-second websites such as TMZ and RadarOnline "have changed the game," he says after characterizing Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and Extra as a bit behind the curve. "And if you keep playing by the old rules, you're going to get killed."

Here's a guy who not only can put lipstick on a pig but rouge on a rattlesnake bite. For instance, the recent ugly bust-up between Bachelor star Jake Pavelka of Dallas and proclaimed love of his life Vienna Girardi "almost enhances the franchise. It doesn't taint it whatsoever," Harrison says. "It's not just about love . . . It's about all the social, economic and mental issues that we all deal with. And we show the viewers all of that -- uncut, unedited, raw. We show it and you watch it and you judge and you decide and you twitter and you blog and you write."

Or in some cases, retch.

Harrison is indefatigable, though. And few TV hosts are hotter at the moment. It was his idea to arrange last month's special confrontation, under The Bachelorette banner, between what turned out to be a glowering, eye-rolling Pavelka and an accusatory, weepy Girardi, who left their stage early while bawling her eyes out.

"There was so much crap being said," Harrison says. "I thought, you know what, I know these people. Let's bring 'em in. I can sit 'em down. Honest to God, my goal that night was to have them walk away amicably and shake hands. It almost happened. It wasn't one of those interviews where you go in trying to stir it up. Gasoline didn't need to be added to that fire . . . I hated that that relationship disintegrated into that. But I love that we are a show that stirs up that much emotion."

The way Harrison sees it, though, neither party was at fault. True love never runs smooth. And on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, what's love got to do with it anyway?

"There's buckets of blame to go around," he says. "Seventeen years of marriage (to wife Gwen) and two kids later, I get that. There is no side. These are two people I know that broke up. I'm not really rooting for anybody. I felt bad. That's all I felt at the end of that interview."

Harrison's parents, grandparents, brother and sister all still live in the Dallas area. His mom, a realtor, regularly has "Bachelor nights and watching parties at her house," he says.

All involved revel in the show's ups, downs, accusations and machinations.

"What woman hasn't dated the bad guy?" Harrison asks somewhat rhetorically. "What woman hasn't tried to nurture and be the mommy figure? And those relationships never work out. Yet every woman does it! That's great conversation, and I kind of like stirring that up."

The Bachelor franchise, launched in 2002, "absolutely" had waned earlier in this decade, Harrison agrees. But he credits the show's producers with reviving it to the point where it now ranks second only to Dancing with the Stars among ABC's "reality" series thoroughbreds. With advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds, though, Bachelor and its spinoffs are on more than equal footing with Dancing.

When Bachelor premiered, "there was no blogging, tweeting or texting," says Harrison, who both tweets and blogs about the show. "The viewer in this day and age demands a lot more. And they demand it now. And so our show and producers really had to wake up and evolve new storylines. You literally need the body, the smoking gun and the videotape."

One more thing. Harrison says he's to blame for starting the blog/tweet semi-frenzy about American Idol finalist Casey James of Fort Worth possibly being the next star of The Bachelor.

"I hate to admit this, because I'm from Texas," he says. "But I was at a 'purse party' (in Los Angeles) hosting as a favor to Ryan Seacrest and his radio station. And Casey James was performing. I said, 'Hey dude, you ought to be on The Bachelor.' And he was like, 'All right.' We said that in front of a crowd. And before I got home, it was on Twitter with pictures of both of us."

Don't worry. Harrison is sure it's not going to happen.

"I'm guessing he's got bigger fish to fry," he says of James, who earlier this month signed a recording deal with Sony Nashville.

As for Harrison, he's never been in a better position to wheel and deal while somehow keeping a straight face through all those cringe-worthy made-for-TV love matches and heartaches. He also strives to remain on convivial speaking terms with all of the show's star players. That's why he tried so hard, he says, to give peace a chance between Pavelka and Girardi.

"At the end of the day, I do want to still be respected by these people," Harrison says. "And also by myself. I kind of have to live with myself at the end of this."