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‘The Bachelorette’: ABC Exec Talks Why the Franchise is So Successful

With 19 seasons of “The Bachelor,” 11 seasons of “The Bachelorette,” three seasons of “Bachelor Pad” and a new season of “Bachelor in Paradise” debuting this summer, no one can argue with the success of ABC’s unscripted phenomenon.

Currently at the start of a new “Bachelorette” season, which after two episodes, is Monday night’s number one series in the 18-34 demo, there seems to be no slowing down for ABC’s graybeard of reality dating shows.

“When it was launched, it was brash and provocative,” Jason Sarlanis, VP of alternative series of ABC said today at RealScreen West in Santa Monica, Calif. The reality TV conference kicked off the same day Lifetime’s “UnReal” premieres — a scripted series, which paints a thinly veiled version of “The Bachelor” in an unflattering light.

Of ABC’s hit series, Sarlanis added, “It was doing something that had not been done before. It got free media from that, no matter how many billboards we could take out.”

Yes, “The Bachelor” was the first of uber successful reality dating series, but what can the long-running, continued success — and growing buzz — be attributed to?

Sarlanis says creator Mike Fleiss and his producing team have been evolving the show, in juxtaposition to the booming trend of soapy storytelling on unscripted television, seen on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” which Sarlanis worked on at E!, before he joined ABC’s team. “Story soaps were blowing up so they said, let’s infuse that storytelling, but ease up on the format.”

“They took what was kind of a challenged-based show, a game elimination show, and they embraced the docu-elements to them,” he added, noting that while the rose ceremony is still an integral part of the show, it’s not the only focus. “It’s great storytelling. You genuinely don’t know what is going to happen next.”

During Mark Burnett’s keynote discussion at RealScreen West, the prolific unscripted creator touched on ABC’s hit, giving a nod to its format, saying, “‘The Bachelor’ has a great format. That’s what makes it so successful.”

The current round of “The Bachelorette” raised red flags for casting two bachelorettes, Britt Nilsson and Kaitlyn Bristowe, ultimately letting the male contestants choose Bristowe as the season’s leading lady. While many were quick to criticize the choice as a ploy to raise ratings, Sarlanis says recruiting returning players in the “Bachelor nation” is a huge part of the franchise’s success, which has helped up the buzz and sustain undeniable numbers, as the shows grow older — the most recent season of the flagship series averaged nearly 10 million viewers, according Nielsen’s Live+7 estimates.

“They embraced the universe of the show and created a subculture,” he said. “That creative choice was embraced at the right time and then you saw resurgence with that show.”

However, as more and more bachelors and bachelorettes continue to look for love, ABC might consider casting new faces to avoid alienating new audiences who are not familiar with previous cast members.

“At a certain point, that becomes a universe and it’s harder to come in as a new viewers to a pre-existing universe. Are there ways to freshen up casting different people?” the exec raised, adding that bringing in new eyeballs is always a top priority.

When asked if ABC desires deviating from being a “family network,” Sarlanis was quick to position “The Bachelor” franchise as properties that qualify as quite the opposite. “‘The Bachelor’ is a show about hot tubs and hookups,” he said.

“We want to be the leader in entertainment,” Sarlanis added. “We don’t necessarily want to be the leader in family entertainment. We’re looking for things that families can watch together, but that does not mean they shouldn’t be provocative.”

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