‘90 Day Fiancé’: A Match Made in Reality Heaven

 90 Day Fiance on TLC.
90 Day Fiance on TLC.
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TLC this past September ushered in the season 10 debut of signature series 90 Day Fiancé with a splashy launch party in New York. With both current and past cast members in attendance, it was a coronation of sorts for the network and producer Sharp Entertainment’s endearing program, one of the most well-known and successful television franchises ever.

Also Read: Producer of the Year 2024: Matt Sharp Hones Reality Hits That Last

With more than 68 billion viewing hours across 150 countries and more than 30 spinoffs — and with such celebrities as Ryan Gosling, Chrissy Teigen, Lady Gaga and Venus Williams taking to social media over the years to express their excitement and fondness for the relationship-themed franchise — 90 Day Fiancé had more than earned a victory lap heading into its 10th season.

90 Day Fiancé launched in 2014 with the premise of following couples who applied for a U.S.-based K-1 visa that allows Americans to bring their foreign fiancés to the country for 90 days before they get married. If the couples do not get married within that span, the visas expire and the foreign nationals must return home.

Sharp Entertainment president Matt Sharp said he came up with the original idea of the series after watching a news story in 2011 about Americans who were going abroad to meet a foreigner for love.

“I was fascinated by the magazine piece,” he said. “We thought we had a great concept, so we quickly wrote up a pitch and we brought it around. We pitched it to all the networks and immediately got rejected everywhere.”

The company even tried to sell the show to male-skewing networks with a new name, Bachelor Wars Russia, emphasizing the lives of the male suitors. Sharp said it wasn’t until the company centered its focus on the relatively unknown K-1 visa law that the concept of 90 Day Fiancé was fully realized.

Still, no network would take a chance on the show until Sharp pitched TLC executive Howard Lee at the 2013 Realscreen Summit. “I was surprised that nobody had been intrigued by the concept … there was a great ticking clock element to it,” said Lee, now the president of Discovery Networks and TLC. “It had a finite ending — either you stay in the USA and get married, or say, ‘Sorry, we’re not in love,’ and they go back home.”

Viewers not familiar 90 Day Fiancé might look at it as just another drama-filled dating show. While the series has had its share of relationship arguments, separations, annulment threats and divorces, Lee said 90 Day Fiancé is unique in that the couples are already together and know one another prior to their appearance.

“It starts from the basis of authenticity from the get-go,” Lee said. “It’s not about eliminations, competitions or about trying to figure out what twists or prizes are offered. It’s just a true study of rotating couples and people who are truly coexisting in this world right now.”

The mothership series is still going strong. More than 14 million viewers have seen season 10 of 90 Day Fiancé across linear and streaming runs since its October 8 debut, TLC reported. It was the most-watched cable series on Sunday nights in January 2024 with key female demos, according to the network.

Host Shaun Robinson said 90 Day Fiancé remains popular because it continually shows the lengths that people will go to in finding someone to love.

“It really opened my eyes to what these couples go through, and that is sweet in itself,” Robinson said in a 2023 interview. “However, there is some drama around getting to that point. At the end of the day it conveys the universal ideal of wanting to be loved.”

Robinson initially didn’t think the show would last as long as it has. “I think if there is a person that said ‘I knew this would happen,’ I don’t think they are necessarily telling the truth,” she said. “I don’t think anybody could foresee the popularity of the show.”

Lee agreed no one could have predicted the success of 90 Day Fiancé, but he is thrilled with its longevity over 10 seasons.

“If Matt and I could both produce a baby, [90 Day Fiancé] would be it,” Lee said.