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‘The Bachelor’ Hits Milestone 20 Years on TV: What’s Next for the Mega Franchise?

This past year The Bachelor endured a heavy dose of controversy the type of drama that even reality TV producers cant make up and certainly dont want to deal with. And yet the franchise has done what no other dating series has done crossing its 20 year mark on the air.With 26 seasons of the flagship 19 seasons of The Bachelorette eight seasons of Bachelor in Paradise and numerous spinoffs to date ABCs dating franchise isnt going anywhere. With an international fanbase that considers The Bachelor to be a way of life more than a TV show its entirely possible that viewers will still be watching in 20 more years.Copycats have tried to mirror the formula. Most have failed. Turns out the simple fairytale of limos roses extravagant jet setting tears and heartbreak isnt so easy to replicate as no new network hits have broken through in recent memory. It wasnt until the pandemic when viewers were bingeing from home that the genre saw a boom in programming with unique formats hitting streaming services like Netflix which fully leaned into the romance craze with an impressive slate of shows like Love Is Blind Too Hot to Handle The Ultimatum Indian Matchmaking Jewish Matchmaking and more. Or HBO Max with FBoy Island which fittingly hails from a veteran producer from The Bachelor world.

The format is here to stay says Brooke Karzen executive VP and head of Warner Horizon Unscripted Television which produces the franchise. There are tropes that the audience relies on. There are parts of this journey that are to be expected like night one arrivals the rose ceremonies and going for a proposal at the end.As the show has evolved critics have questioned if that proposal at the end is necessary or if the prospect of finding your spouse after a matter of weeks is setting up television couples for failure in the real world. When The Bachelor debuted in 2002 rom coms were all the rage and Hollywood was selling narratives rooted in finding Prince Charming now storytelling has become more raw complex and realistic. In fact its hard to imagine a pitch in todays world centered around one man dating multiple women at the same time.In 2001 and remember this was in the heyday of Temptation Island on Fox I think the idea was one guy dates 25 women and breaks up with 24 of them. If you were pitching it now the pitch is that this person has tried everything and they just want to find the love of their life says Rob Mills executive vice president of unscripted and alternative entertainment at Walt Disney Television. At the end of the day everything about the show and why it works is relatability. Everyone wants to find love and everyone has had their heart broken like the people on screen.

Just like a medical drama the well on The Bachelor never runs dry. Falling in love paired with rejection is an endless cycle for ripe storytelling. And yet while every network has wanted their version of The Bachelor for the past two decades ABC has continuously led the pack.Over the years with so many shows that have come and go none of them have worked without high stakes says Mike Darnell president of Warner Bros. Unscripted Television. The high stakes is that you hope at the end of the show there is an engagement. I think that is extraordinarily important to the DNA of the show because if not what are you going for? I just want a boyfriend or girlfriend doesnt really say it. Thats not what theyre in it for the be honest.So what are they in it for? Since the beginning of time for reality TV dating skeptics have wondered if you can truly find love on television. But in todays swiping culture you could argue that a TV show is just as good as any dating app. Perhaps the bigger issue is the rise of Instagram fame. With lucrative social media deals looming for any prospective reality star the question of being here for the right reasons has hit an all time high.Im not going to lie its a challenge for casting Karzen admits. We want people who are interested in the lead and who are there to really fall in love. Theyre not there to be famous. It comes with the territory but when the show started there was no Twitter Instagram or Facebook. It wasnt even a thought.

Funny enough the show started with what turned out to be the most successful couple in the franchises history Trista Rehn who left the inaugural season of The Bachelor heartbroken met Ryan Sutter one of her contestants on the very first season of The Bachelorette in 2003. The duo is still married today living mostly away from the cameras with two children in Colorado. To showcase just how much network television has changed over the past twenty years when they tied the knot their million dollar televised nuptials drew in more than 20 million viewers at the time the network said the special drew the largest U.S. audience for a TV wedding since Prince Charles and Lady Diana.The past season of The Bachelor hit a series low topping out at 4.7 million for its grand finale. But its all relative. With viewership steadily declining across broadcast the show still ranked as one of ABCs top in the 18 49 demo in its 26th season which starred leading man Clayton Echard.Echard may not have been a fan favorite but the drama did not disappoint. In fact it was so intense that after he broke up with the same women numerous times and at the same time the creative team decided to make two heartbroken women Gabby Windey and Rachel Recchia the next stars of The Bachelorette creating a history making moment casting two leads for the first time.

Whats allowed the show to remain a hit is that years ago we started making leads from previous seasons says Mills. It really feels like a primetime soap opera. We take back burner characters and put them on the front burner and continue telling the story that viewers want to see.The Bachelor has created a web of interconnected storytelling almost like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its audience is similarly invested too. Bachelor Nation the community of fans and cast make the show a top trending social media topic with each episode. Bachelor Nation is a legion of fans says Karzen. Its almost like Comic Con.Bachelor is one of the last series standing that makes for appointment television with audiences eager to tune in every Monday night live tweeting or calling their friends during commercial breaks. Viewing parties are par for the course among fans and executives joke that Nielsen should learn to track communal viewing habits. The morning after an episode airs a series of fan made podcasts TikTok videos and memes are birthed with millions upon millions of views and Bachelor devoted accounts that have created social media stars in their own right.

With that said dont expect to see The Bachelor jumping to a streaming service like Dancing With the Stars which is heading to Disney Plus after 30 seasons on ABC. The brand is so strong it could probably live anywhere says Darnell But its one of the few things that works well on broadcast.There is definitely a fluctuation season to season and you know when its working but really I pay more attention to the social buzz than the actual ratings admits Mills who noticed that power when Jimmy Kimmel hosted in 2015. Jimmy told me I know those ratings are wrong because I got more feedback on that episode that I hosted than anything else Ive ever done in my career.Aside from a plugged in audience the show is very much in the pop culture zeitgeist still landing magazine covers just like it did when the Sutters graced the cover of People back in 2003. Remember when Trista was a guest on Oprah?You can hardly say the word Bachelor or Bachelorette without thinking of the show. It means one thing says Darnell. This is one of the few shows in the world not just in this country that has resonated for so long but more importantly is still relevant. There are shows that have been on for a long time but they have lost their relevance.

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