By Lori Acken
I had two wedding planners both times I tied the knot — my mom and my sister. And aside from the flower-bedazzled pointy-forehead thingie I wore on my head for the first one, they did a terrific job. But I still owe a debt of gratitude to WE tv’s maestro of matrimony, David Tutera, whose My Fair Wedding has been a four-season favorite for the network.
Having undergone a pair of seriously crummy health crises in the underside of two years, I’ve spent plenty of time at home, plumbing my TV for a little good news, a little happily-ever-after. Which ain’t so easy these days. But if you’ve seen even one episode of Tutera’s heart-of-gold wedding makeover series, you know that making everyone feel hopeful — from the bride to the guests to the Wedding audience — isn’t just Tutera’s life’s work. It’s his life’s blood.
• Missed the Sunday night premiere? Watch it here.
Tutera, whose own modest-means-to-millions story inspired him to say yes to WE tv’s offer of a bridezilla-free wedding show, spoke to us on the eve of My Fair Wedding’s fifth season premiere about the importance of celebrating life’s joyful moments, doing good for good people in tough-outlook times … and why he prefers to know nothing about his brides until he arrives on their doorstep.
CGM: I just did a story about food-related television and the rise of shows that actually make people feel good and positive. Is that rewarding for you that, in addition to making your bridal couples happy, you can make audiences feel good too?
DT: I know why the industry is the way it is is because reality television is cheaper to make and obviously draws in dollars for the advertisers. But I think it’s a disgrace that it’s teaching our younger generation that its ok to behave that way. It’s horrible.
When we finished wrapping up Season 4 and began working on this season, I’m co-executive producer on this show as well and I really wanted the viewer to feel like they’re not going to watch another season of the same formula of the show. It’s been great, but I wanted to change it up a little bit, and so the stories are deeper stories in the sense that these are people who have challenges in their lives — hurdles, struggles.
Episode one of this season is a completely different direction. And I love telling this story because it’s a young boy at the age of 15 diagnosed with cancer, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation called me up in New York and said, “We would like to see if you would be interested in granting a wish for this boy.” And I thought, “What would a 15-year-old boy want from me?”
What he wanted was to have his mom on My Fair Wedding. His mom postponed all of her wedding plans to take care of him while he was sick. She never planned a wedding. So I arrived in Kansas and surprised this great, incredible family and gave them the wedding of their dreams.
And that’s really what this season is about. It’s finding a way to tell the story of people’s struggles — not in a way that’s depressing, but in a way that’s uplifting and powerful.
If you go back and look at the wedding programming in the last several years, I think the networks are trying to create programs that are negative and drama-driven with ill-behaved women, women expecting things for nothing. And it’s taking the world of weddings — which is supposed to be postitive and happy and celebrating life — and makes it miserable.
My Fair Wedding is a show where I didn’t know what it was going to be about, I didn’t know if I wanted to do it, I didn’t know if I wanted to be a part of television. And it’s sort of one of those happy accidents — and I know that accidents aren’t always accidents — and the audience embraced it and in a big, fast way.
CGM: Really? You didn’t know if you wanted to do the show? What was the tipping point for you?
DT: It’s a very funny story. When WE tv asked me to do this show, they called me up a week before Christmas at my offices in New York and said, “We’d like to talk to you about doing a show.” And the reality of it was that I really didn’t want to do television. I had done a show previously on Discovery and, for me, that was a good experience but I really didn’t feel like I needed to do television again.
But the facts are, they called me three consecutive times and I declined taking the meeting. The tipping point was, their offices are four blocks from my office on the same street. So just to be kind and nice, I walked over and talked to someone at the network and they pitched me the concept of the show and I thought, “Oh my gosh! This is a great idea.”
Season One was only six episodes, and it wasn’t until the second episode aired that the network called and said, “We want to pick you up for a Season 2.” And that’s when I said, “We might have a pretty good show on our hands…”
CGM: So much of your job is mental and psychological — tapping into what the bride is really hoping for, what she might be really resistant to change, and so forth. Is that a skill that you’ve had to hone over your years of event-planning experience, or have you always had the knack?
DT: You know what’s interesting — and I think I just figured this out in the past year — if they came to me to do this show ten years ago, I wasn’t ready, where I was in my life. I think it works because I’m a guy that comes from a middle- to lower-middle income family. And for the past 20 years of my career, I’ve worked for very rich people. So I was kind of forced into a scenario where I had to learn from my clients what they wanted in a period of time that was very short.
Fast-forward to My Fair Wedding. Here I am now, with the expertise of doing what I’m doing for so many wealthy people — celebrities, politicians, socialites — but now I enter the world of making dreams come true for people I grew up with. That’s my life. So it’s kind of like my past history made it possible for me to do this show.
When you look at the people who are on TV or have brands in the wedding industry — and this is a fact, not me coming up with a story — most people that do what I do come from money. They’re in a social scene where they are their clients. So, they’re actually just putting themselves into the world of their peers. In my situation, I am not my client. I’m so not my client. Who I am is a bride on my show. I don’t mean a girl [laughs], but you know what I mean.
CGM: I’d imagine that casting your show is a challenge — choosing which brides to work with, making sure that each wedding story is fresh and unique and something your audiences haven’t see before. Are you completely in charge of that process?
DT: I have to tell you, it’s the one thing of all the things on this show that I’m not a part of. And I love it. I love the fact that I have nothing to do with casting of these girls.
It’s been begged upon me over four seasons to be a part of knowing who these brides are before I knock on their door. Not the casting part, but when I knock on their door I know nothing. Half the time, I don’t even know their name.
If I was part of casting, and I picked the girls with casting and the producers and I showed up to their house, I would have already preplanned and preconceived a concept before I even knew who they were.
CGM: You have your own line of wedding attire and jewelry — was this born of audience request, making it easier to get your brides into beautiful gowns and jewelry, or just a natural extension of what you do?
DT: As I was doing appearances and speaking to fans, I learned what the challenges are for girls who are planning weddings in the real world — seriously in the real world. So I did a line of fashion based on two scenarios. One, unique designs for women of all body types. The world of fashion, as we all know, caters to girls of a smaller size. I wanted to make sure that any girl of any size or color could feel and look important and beautiful, no matter what their size — and more importantly, for their budget. So that was important. That was the reason for the birth of my fashion line.
The accessories and jewelry, these are all done because girls want to have great weddings, but now more than ever, their challenges are more difficult because of the lack of money.
All of these ideas are based upon challenges of money and uniqueness of creativity.
CGM: Can you speak a little more about how the economy has affected the scope and magnitude of wedding planning — and how you do what you do?
DT: The facts of weddings are fascinating. The national wedding budget has gone down — it’s like $22,000 for everything, on a national average. But the money spent yearly on weddings has increased. So you have an decrease in budgets, but an increase in overall spending — I think it’s like a $50 billion a year industry.
Which says to me that more people are falling in love, more people are having weddings, more people want to have weddings as opposed to eloping or getting married at the justice of the peace.
And that says to me that people want to celebrate the good moments in their life. That’s good information.
CGM: One that subject, could you give me an example of one of your most joyous and gratifying episodes?
DT: I can talk about one particular couple from last season. And I tell this story because I really think it’s worth hearing.
This is a couple, Kim and Eddie — she suffered breast cancer and she went through some really serious challenges. She chose to remove her ovaries and lost her opportunity to have a child. Kim and Eddie and myself and my partner Ryan have become extremely close friends. So this is a relationship that I built based upon the experience on my show. Fast forward — Kim and Eddie are now expecting twins through a surrogate!
I just adore hearing the stories of the girls on my show. That’s what this is about. I hope someday we can do a reunion show, so we can check in on them. It’s not just about the walk down the aisle. It’s about the journey of their lives.
In Season Five, there are some pretty powerful moments, too. Besides our first episode with Make-A-Wish, there’s story of a girl who has struggled with anorexia; there’s the story of a girl who suffered two strokes at the age of 23 because she was 160 pounds overweight. She lost all her weight but still sees herself as an unhealthy, overweight girl. There’s another story about a girl whose mom was murdered by her boyfriend — she was four years old when her mom was murdered.
These stories are real. These are stories about women who are happy to be getting married but they still have their emotional struggles — and I come in and I tackle those emotional struggles. Because you can’t have a real, honest, joyful wedding if you don’t know what you’re up against personally.
We embrace them, we work through them and we work toward getting them to a better place.
Watch all-new episodes of My Fair Wedding Sunday nights at 9pm ET/PT on WE tv.