With Season 13 of “The Bachelorette” wrapping up Monday night, ABC’s “Bachelor” franchise has officially hit 40 seasons.
Between the flagship series “The Bachelor” which debuted in 2002, “The Bachelorette,” and summer spinoffs “Bachelor Pad” and “Bachelor in Paradise,” the mega-dating show is one of the biggest hits to ever grace television. And ABC has already greenlit yet another spinoff, “The Bachelor Winter Games,” which is set to premiere in February.
Despite long-running success, the franchise has come with its fair share of controversy.
ABC was hit with years upon years of criticism from fans and critics for the reality show’s lack of casting diverse contestants throughout the network’s run. This past season, that finally changed with 32-year-old attorney Rachel Lindsay finally cast as “The Bachelorette,” marking the first-ever African-American lead on the entire franchise.
“If Rachel was on the show five seasons ago, she would have been ‘The Bachelorette,’ and if she was on the show five seasons from now, she also would have been ‘The Bachelorette.’ She’s just fantastic,” says Rob Mills, ABC’s SVP of alternative series, specials, and late-night programming. “In terms of the overall diversity, it really was about integrating more diverse contestants into the big pool and getting really great contestants and I think we’ve done that. I think you saw that on Nick Viall’s season and on Rachel’s season, and there’s a lot more diversity on ‘Bachelor in Paradise’ as a result to that. I don’t see us going back from that.”
Here, Mills speaks to Variety more about ABC’s history-making diverse season, the “Bachelor in Paradise” scandal, and the future of the franchise…
How do you feel this season was in comparison to others?
It’s been great seeing the reaction to Rachel. She’s been an incredible Bachelorette. She’s been incredibly real. You saw it early on with the whole thing with DeMario and the girlfriend. You even saw it when Chris Harrison was trying to talk to her and she sort of pushed him away. She handles herself, which is really great. She makes decisions that are right for her. I think she’s also been funny and fun. She’s had fantastic guys and guys that we haven’t really seen before.
What did you think about this season’s crop of contestants?
You really saw the buzz and ratings uptick with the hometown dates because all the guys were so distinct with their background and everything about them.
Did you notice any changes in the audience with a diverse lead?
Not really. We saw a slight uptick in African-American homes — not significant, but we definitely saw some.
During the “Bachelor in Paradise” scandal, were you ever worried that the show actually would not come back?
It was really imperative for us to do our due diligence and everyone took this very seriously, and that was very important, but assuming that nothing happened — which we felt confident — and once there was a very thorough investigation and it proved nothing had happened, then we thought it was incredibly important for the show to come back because you didn’t want to lend any credence to the idea that something had happened and we were trying to cover something up. However, it was a Herculean effort of the crew to come back and get everything started again. And you’ll see it’s a bit of a different season.
How will the season of “Bachelor in Paradise” this summer address the production shut-down?
It was fascinating watching the new cast come in after the original cast that was part of the stop-down had been there. People who were part of the original stop-down bonded over that. It was sort of interesting because they definitely went through this thing together. They all really wanted to come back, and I was really glad we were able to get it back and have this season.
Between the “Bachelor in Paradise” scandal and the contestant Lee’s racist tweets, there was a lot of controversy this season. Can you explain the vetting process and how these things seem to keep happening?
Everybody goes through a background check so you see everything, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re looking at social media. We absolutely had no idea that Lee tweeted this stuff out. There was a small percentage of conspiracy theorists who thought we knew and put him on the show, and we wouldn’t have done that. But the fact is he did tweet it out, and now, it’s a different world. We’re in uncharted territory. Now we’ve realized that we’ll look at social media accounts and look through carefully. And now the question is how far back do you go — is it two years? Is it five years? Had we seen those tweets from Lee, he would not have been cast. Going forward, we’ll be looking at all of that, in addition to the background checks, which of course give you criminals records and all of that.
Why do you think “The Bachelor” franchise has stayed successful for so long?
As big as the ratings are, they’re definitely not telling the whole tale. Everybody knows it has the highest group viewing. It’s become an event. It’s so social. This show has become like a sporting event — we don’t have football, but this does feel kind of like football. Once you got to hometown dates, that’s kind of like the playoffs and then the final rose is your Super Bowl. The advent of social media helped, and also when the show took a turn and it started going real and it wasn’t a game show, people realized there are real stakes and real emotions — we always point to Brad Womack’s first season when he didn’t pick anyone.
What can you tease about the latest spinoff, “The Bachelor Winter Games”?
We’ve just done a location scout in the domestic United States. We’re still working it out, but we’re talking about the casts from “Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” and then some competition from the national versions of the format like “Bachelor Australia” or “Bachelor UK” or “Bachelor Japan.” Just like the real [Olympics] winter games, we’ll have an international component. I think it’s going to be really neat to have casts from these international versions come out, and hopefully they’ll find love. “Winter Games” kind of goes away from the ski-bunny thing and has more of a competition element because we didn’t want that to feel too much like “Bachelor in Paradise.”
Are there any more spinoffs in the works?
Oh boy. On one hand, you feel there can never be too many, but honestly it has to come by organically. “Bachelor Pad” and then by extension “Bachelor in Paradise” came to us because we heard that the casts were all getting together and dating so we wanted to give them another chance at love. And then “Winter Games” spun off from the idea of a winter version of “Bachelor in Paradise” so it does have to come by organically. We don’t think like, “What are the eight different spinoffs we can do?” But if there’s one that fits in and doesn’t hurt the other shows, then believe me, nothing would make me happier than to have an all “Bachelor” channel.
Is there any end in sight to “The Bachelor” franchise?
My sense is no. That’s why we’ve coined the term Bachelor Nation — it really is a family. I’m not just talking about the cast, I’m talking about the people who watch it. It’s this bonding thing. It’s very similar to any other property with a big fandom like “Star Wars” or “Star Trek,” and those things never die. They live on in different forms and iterations. “The Bachelor” is very much like that. I don’t think people would know what to do without some version of “The Bachelor” on because there’s just this good feeling you get from it. I can’t imagine a world without “The Bachelor.”