The 26-year-old former pro football player initially got mixed reactions when he was announced as ABC’s next Bachelor and since, viewers have been critical of the show’s marketing, which puts Underwood’s abstinence on a pedestal. (This season’s promo tagline is, “What does he have to lose?”)
But, veteran ABC executive Rob Mills says the show won’t exploit the new Bachelor’s virginity. “I think by a certain point, it’s just going to get old. If we don’t have other angles in — which is the girls and the relationships he’s forming — then people are going to start checking out,” Mills says. The topic of his purity will be addressed throughout the season, he added, but it won’t be the primary focus of each episode.
Shooting has wrapped on the entire season, but the ending is not what it seems. “It gets wilder and wilder,” the executive says about Underwood’s ups-and-downs during his journey to find love.
Here, Mills talks with Variety about Underwood’s season, including the new cast members (and villains!) and discusses who could be the next “Bachelorette.”
Now that filming has wrapped, how do you think this season went?
I would call this season different, yet the same. There’s everything you love about the show — the typical jealousy, the falling in love, the drama — but Colton is unlike any Bachelor we’ve ever had. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but he’s a virgin. But that’s not what I’m talking about — he’s different in how he treats everything. He was kind of a dark horse candidate on Becca [Kufrin]’s season of “The Bachelorette,” but Colton knows every part of his life, except who he’s going to spend it with. He knows that this foundation is what he’s willing to do and he wanted to take a concentrated approach to finding someone. I don’t know that he’s dated a ton before this either, so this was very interesting.
What can you tease about how it all ends up for Colton?
It ends very different. You think it’s going to be going one way, and then it goes in a completely different direction.
Would you say he gets his happy ending?
Oh boy. Honestly, I don’t know if I can say if it’s happy or unhappy. The other thing you need to remember is what happened with Arie [Luyendyk Jr.] — this continues airing until the end of March, so I would say the ending is not written.
So even though you’ve show the entire season with the ending — proposal or not — if things do change, like they did with Arie, you would continue to film and edit the season’s ending as it stands right now, so that you could air whatever transpired?
What we learned with Arie and Becca is that we will continue filming regardless.
You said he was a dark horse candidate. Why did you ultimately decide on Colton as “The Bachelor”?
Colton was an easy sell — it felt like it you didn’t watch last season, you could jump right in. The guy is a former professional football player, he now runs a foundation, he’s still a virgin. These are things that if you haven’t watched before, there’s an easy entry point — opposed to Blake or Jason, who you would have had to have watched “The Bachelorette” with Becca. Colton certainly loved Becca, but he didn’t fall in love the way the Blake did. But, I have to be honest with you: this was really a three-way tie [between Blake, Jason and Colton] and the decision really went right down to the end.
When Colton was picked, the hashtag #NotMyBachelor started trending on Twitter because a lot of viewers didn’t believe he was ready for a real commitment. What would you say to those fans?
We felt that when we talked to him on the show, this is a guy who just wants to find somebody and settle down and focus on his life with that person. Certainly, there are people who you think are ready, but then you see them on the show and you find out that they actually love the fame that comes from “The Bachelor” — they’re not ready to settle down, and they want to play the field a little bit more and keep dating. Colton certainly has dated before the show, but he really focused on his career as an athlete and then his charity, so I don’t know that he has had a ton of experience dating. There was the sense that this is a guy who hasn’t dated 15 people before, but that’s okay.
Are you pleased with your decision to have Colton as the Bachelor?
Absolutely. Do I think I would have been pleased with the other ones? Absolutely. At this point last year with Arie, I would have said, “Yeah, it’s a solid season.” We never would have known what would have happened with Becca until about three weeks into the run of the show. But at this point now, we’re absolutely thrilled.
How will ABC make sure not to exploit Colton’s virginity for the sake of ratings or good TV or marketing?
By a certain point, it’s just going to get old. If we don’t have other angles in, which is the girls and the relationships he’s forming, then people are going to start checking out. But obviously it is a question that’s going to go throughout the season — Is he a virgin? Is he still a virgin? Is he not a virgin? — so you do still want to keep that going so obviously it’s going to factor in all season. But it won’t be the entire show.
Well, since you brought it up: Will that question be answered during the season?
Gosh. How do I answer that? I honestly don’t know how it’s going to be addressed or when it’s going to be addressed, but it will be addressed. I’m not saying he’s done anything, but if he had, it’s a personal choice and no matter what, we’re going to work with him on how it gets addressed because it is personal.
Former Bachelor Sean Lowe said he thinks ABC’s portrayal Colton as a virgin is “overkill without question.” What do you think about his comment?
Sean is one of the all-time most beloved Bachelors. But since he was a born-again virgin, people are going to ask him his opinion, and I think he’s entitled. Look, Sean hasn’t seen one frame of this season, so he doesn’t know and he’s just speculating on what he’s seen from the ads, so I totally respect the comments he’s made.
How did ABC get the idea for the “40 Year Old Virgin” promos?
What’s great is that when you’re tons of seasons into a franchise, you have fun with the marketing. With Colton, it’s easy to say that he’s “The Virgin Bachelor.” There was a lot of debate on whether the “40 Year Old Virgin” should be the lead key art and there were some reasons for not doing it, like what if people didn’t understand the reference? So we split it in half — the key art that you see on billboards and such is the traditional hunky Bachelor, and then we had Judd Apatow release the “40 Year Old Virgin” artwork — it was too good to not be seen. It’s always good to have people talking, so I think the response has been great. There has definitely been a response from people who think we are beating a dead horse before the show has even started airing, but you’ll see, it’s really not the show — it’s certainly part of who Colton is so it’s part of the show, but it’s not the entire show.
Was casting different this time around since Colton is a virgin? ABC obviously tries to find contestants who are well suited for the lead, and some women may have different opinions about dating a virgin.
The virgin angle really had nothing to do with the casting. It was much more about this guy and who he is. He’s not ultra religious, the way that somebody like Sean Lowe is where his faith is a very big part of his life, and you want to make sure that person shared that, as well. Here, for Colton, it was more about who was going to be a true partner for him. That’s what he was looking for.
Are there any standout contestants in your mind? Do you already have an idea of who’s going to be the most talked-about contestant?
There are certainly a handful that are going to be talked about, but all for different types of reasons. There’s somebody named Demi on this season, who is just fantastic — she’s really smart and really full of life, but also somebody who rubs people the wrong way and has no regrets about that, so I think people are really going to like that. There’s this girl Hannah G. who honestly, you just can’t help but think of Reese Witherspoon when you see her — you feel like you’re watching a romantic comedy. I do think as a whole, this entire group is really solid and there are a lot of people to keep your eye on.
From how you’ve seen the season play out, do you have an idea for who might be picked as the next Bachelorette?
I think there are some ideas, but honestly, every time you think you’ve figured it out, you haven’t. I’m hard-pressed to find one season where we said, “Oh, that’s the girl who is definitely going to be it — honestly, if I had to really think about it, I would probably say it was Ali Fedotowsky; that’s how far back it was. You never really know because you have a group of women and you have to see how the audience reacts, so right now, I would say it’s an open playing field.
Would you ever cast a completely new Bachelor or Bachelorette, someone who has not been on the franchise at all and comes from outside the pool of other seasons?
We’re open to that, and we’re actually going to do some concerted casting efforts to look for contestants — whether or not that happens, but just to identify them — but at the end of the day, [having a lead from a past season] is great both for the people who are dating the lead, but also for the audience to have a lot of muscle memory for this person.
As the franchise has grown, so many contestants — not even winners or leads — are turning their spotlight on the show into seriously lucrative social media careers. When it comes to casting, how do you make sure you’re not getting people who are just looking to extend their 15 minutes?
Some of it is a leap of faith. They come in the room and they’re certainly not trained actors, so you can kind of see through a lot of it. But at the end of the day, there is always that person who thinks this is going to lead to exposure and fame, and certainly now, there is money to be made — you don’t have to move onto another TV show or have a film career, but there is a lot of social media stuff that you can really make a living from. But at the end of the day, the reason why the show is such a phenomenon is because it’s about such a universal thing: we’re all looking for love. So, most of these people are looking for love, and even if someone was just on for fame, but then they accidentally fell in love, that’s an interesting storyline, too, because that’s a villainous reason for coming on and then the villain would become the heroine or hero.
Is there a villain that you’ve already identified from Colton’s cast?
I would say there’s a few “villains.” But you look at some of the all-time great “Bachelor” villains, like Michelle Money, who everybody thought was such a villain and so horrible and then became one of the all-time fan favorites on the show. It’s like a soap opera — you look back at Luke and Laura on “General Hospital” and he’s a guy who attacked Laura and then they ended up getting married and became a super couple. So, I think that there are certainly people who are unlikable, but there’s nothing better than seeing that transformation and realizing this is why that person acts that way. For instance, on this season, Demi has a secret, which we will find out in the first episode, so there are shades to these people — it’s not just like, “Oh, I’m going to be the villain and be loud because that gets me more airtime.”
There are so many currently engaged couples from the franchise. Are there plans to televise any of the weddings?
We’re always talking about it. I think it has to be the right couple, and also how do we make it different than the ones we’ve done before? It’s got to have some sort of angle. I will say, I think we’ve done a little bit of reach out into the group wedding dynamic, and understandably so, no one seems interested.
Have you truly discussed doing a group televised wedding?
We’ve done soft reach outs. And to be fair, everybody feels that their wedding day is special and that it’s their own, so you can’t blame them — but you also can’t blame us for asking.
Have you talked to Ashley I. and Jared about a TV wedding?
Just in broad strokes. But it’s funny you say that because that’s the one that always comes up. It’s never any of the leads; it’s always Ashley and Jared. I think because it’s such a different story that’s had so many ups-and-downs over many years, opposed to a couple on “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette,” like Jojo and Jordan, who were on the air for 10 weeks and have been together for years and they’re happy — not to say that we wouldn’t love to do their wedding — but it’s just funny how people love this story of Ashley I. and Jared.
Are there any plans to televise Arie and Lauren’s baby when it’s born?
Certainly if we do more of those daycare dates on “Bachelor In Paradise,” I think we would. And we always do check-ins with couples in packages, so we’ll always know what’s going on there. But we’re honestly just so excited by the fact that it couldn’t have worked out better. It was so draining knowing that we were sitting on this secret that was so brutal with the Becca breakup, and the fact that it worked out for all parties involved better than anyone would have expected obviously makes us feel really good.
Longtime “Bachelor” producer Elan Gale abruptly departed the show, and creator Mike Fleiss tweeted something rather ominous saying he “can’t comment” on his exit. What happened there?
Look, there’s always a P.T. Barnum element to Mike, which he’s taken to Twitter. Elan is somebody who has been an invaluable contributor to the show, but he’s also somebody who is insanely talented and I think wanted to spread his wings, and he was working on a lot of other things, and he also wanted other people on the show to grow. I think it was a natural disillusionment of a marriage, really.