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‘The Bachelorette’: ABC Exec on Season 15, Diversity Efforts and the Franchise’s Evolution

The Bachelorette” is back for its 15th season with a new leading lady: Hannah Brown, otherwise known as Hannah B.

Brown was first introduced to audiences as a contestant on the most recent season of “The Bachelor” with star Colton Underwood, and she was seen as a dark horse for “The Bachelorette.”

Although the season just premiered this past Monday, the full season wrapped shooting this week, meaning Brown’s journey for love has come to an end. Viewers will watch her season play out over the next couple of months, but ABC’s reality chief, Rob Mills, teases that Brown is truly torn over who to choose. “What you’re going to find is the decision she makes goes right down to the very last minute,” Mills tells Variety.

The supertease shown at the end of Monday’s premiere episode promises a dramatic season filled with crying, screaming, fighting, an ambulance, one contestant calling another contestant a “psychopath” and a lot of kissing. In fact, the promo footage of the season shows that Brown is not shy about expressing her sexuality, which Mills says was embraced by the network.

“Sexuality and physicality are handled much more head-on now. What I think is so interesting is how ‘The Bachelor’ evolves. There are no longer the barriers,” Mills says about broadcasting intimate moments on television. “So what you see with Hannah is the fact that we do address it, where we used to maybe just hint at it. Hannah took things head-on, and this is a woman realizing that she absolutely can own her sexuality as a woman, and she does that. She certainly shows herself as a strong, independent woman.”

Here, Rob Mills talks to Variety about Season 15, how “The Bachelor” franchise evolves, in regards to sexuality and diversity — and whether there are plans to cast a black “Bachelor” anytime soon.

Hannah B. is the first “Bachelorette” chosen who was not in the Top 4 on “The Bachelor.” What made her so special that you knew she had to be the leading lady?

It’s not like “The Bachelorette” has to be in the Top 4. We’ve met with others in the past. We also met with Hannah G. and Taysia and Demi, who was a wildcard, and Caelynn. And then Hannah came in and I think because she really thought she was a dark horse and didn’t have much of a chance, she came in with nothing to lose — that’s not to say the other girls were politicking or anything, but with her, she was just herself. There was no nervousness. Like, “I’ll take the meeting, but I’m sure it’s not going to be me.” The other four we met with were also phenomenal, which is why we’re so happy we have “Bachelor In Paradise,” so that we don’t have to say goodbye to these people. But there was just something about Hannah. She came in and there was just something so different about her and we knew she’d make a great “Bachelorette.”

What exactly was it about Hannah that you knew she’d make a great “Bachelorette?”

She said herself “I’m the hot mess express,” and she really is — she just owns the fact that she is a bit uncomfortable in her own skin and she is goofy and can be a little crazy, but she also is someone who really wants to settle down and she’s in a point in her life where she’s ready to find that right partner, so everything just came together with her.

How would you describe Hannah as “The Bachelorette?”

I would describe her as someone who is true to herself, honest and someone who really grew as a woman. You see her being really independent and owning who she is. She’s somebody who threw her whole heart into it and was really strong. If somebody came on that wasn’t there for the right reasons, she really handled it herself — she didn’t wait for Chris Harrison or producers to handle a situation for her. Everything she did was what she wanted to do, which was great, but also just fun and funny.

In the supertease that was shown at the end of the season premiere, Hannah says, “I have had sex and Jesus still loves me.” It appears that she feels judged by the men for expressing her sexuality. What is that about?

She’s a southern girl and I think maybe some guys had preconceived notions and thought she would be what they would see in their mind as “proper” or someone who shouldn’t have a physical relationship unless it’s just with them or the person she’s marrying, and she basically says no — she says it perfectly: “I had sex and Jesus still loves me.” Being a strong independent woman, she basically says that no matter who she marries, her husband is going to accept that, or else he’s not going to be her husband.

Are you concerned about the reaction to that storyline? Obviously, the topic of having sex before marriage is a big discussion that is far bigger than “The Bachelor.”

I’m very curious how that’s going to be received, but I think she’s a great, strong, independent “Bachelorette,” and I hope that Bachelor Nation is going to get behind her and cheer for her.

Is intimacy a big part of this season?

Like we saw in Colton’s season, the topic of sexuality and physicality is addressed head-on. Certainly, we brought it up on Andi’s [Dorfman] season where Nick [Viall] said that they had made love on the fantasy suite. It kicked down a door that yes, physical relationships are part of this show. It’s just a part of the show. I think you’ll see that Hannah is very physically affectionate — that doesn’t mean sex necessary — but she believes that physical chemistry is part of it. You’ll see, even just with her kissing, it’s very sensual, which is great because she’s forming these connections with these guys.

From the teaser of the season, it looks like Hannah is torn at the end. Is this a season where the lead falls in love with multiple contestants?

She definitely falls in love with numerous people. She’s somebody who is very passionate and she has a massive heart. She’s open to everyone and everything. With Hannah, she really was considering everything. I think she dated a certain type of guy before this, and I think she realized that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and she really explored multiple connections with many guys. She is someone who believes that there is room in your heart to love more than one person. So yes, she absolutely does fall in love with multiple men.

So then, how does that impact the drama of this season? In recent seasons, we’ve seen leads who are torn over multiple people at the end of their seasons and then make a last-minute decision — and even change their minds.

That’s right. We’ll see how it pans out. But what was so amazing is that the guys this season are all so smitten and in love with her. It’s impossible not to fall in love with her. She’s just so funny and winning and charming and honest to herself and stunningly beautiful. So, the guys were super competitive — and not with each other, but just over her. Usually, you see the guys fighting because they just don’t like each other personally. Here, it is much more about Hannah. They are so over the moon about Hannah.

You can see that in the promo for the season. The guys appear to be extremely competitive and aggressive.

They’re very aggressive. You’ll see one guy manipulate time with Hannah. In the second week, there is a guy who doesn’t get a date so he shows up at a group date, which turns everyone off. And there is another guy, Luke P., who almost immediately falls head over heels with Hannah — this is a guy who is completely in love with Hannah, but also has some DNA of Chad [Johnson].

If you’re comparing anyone to “Bad Chad,” I’m guessing it’s safe to assume that Luke P. is a contestant to keep an eye on?

I would say he’s the one that everyone is going to be talking about. He’s the one who is called a “psychopath” in the teaser. There are shades of Chad there. But I don’t want to call him a “villain,” because I don’t know that we necessarily have villains anymore — there are a lot more shades of gray. Whether he’s in love with Hannah or not, he believes he’s in love with her, almost from the very beginning. So he’s not necessarily a bad guy, but he is a controversial guy.

Are there any other contestants to look out for?

I would keep an eye on Jed, the songwriter, because I think there’s always a red flag that comes up with a guy who’s a singer because there’s the question of is he there for fame? But he’s somebody that I think people are really going to fall in love with. I think Mike is somebody that everybody loves and is one of our all-time great contestants — funny, charming, a great smile, very sweet. He has a moment with her that is so heartfelt that people are going to just fall in love with him, but he’s also a guy that isn’t afraid to call it out like he sees it. We also have John Paul Jones, who never goes by anything but John Paul Jones. And then there’s Cam, who is going to stir things up very early with the guys in the house.

How about Matteo? He’s getting a lot of attention because he’s a sperm donor who has fathered 114 children. Was that an issue for Hannah?

No. What you’ll see with Hannah is she is really open to everything. I think she really feels that if people want to have a child and this is a way that it can help them, that’s the way that she views it. And he is fantastic. He actually knows some of these kids. It’s not like he just donated his sperm and moved on. When you look at him, you’ll understand why they chose him as a sperm donor because he’s very good looking, he’s funny, smart and charming. He’s a great character this season.

There is an ambulance in the promos, which is becoming familiar imagery on “The Bachelor” franchise. Is this actually going to be a serious injury or hospital visit, or is it going to turn out to be a moment viewers think was overblown through editing and promotion?

The hospital visits, I’d say, are fairly warranted. I think we see more injuries on “The Bachelorette” because they do more physical dates like boxing and that stuff. There’s a rugby date that turns very violent and physical.

You said that Hannah is open to everything. Was that helpful in casting her suitors, in regards to diversity, given that she doesn’t have a “type?”

What the show has done really well is adding diversity and it happened gradually. I don’t think you hear about it as much as you did before when it was like, “They put in one or two people to check a box.” Now, it isn’t that. Mike, who I just mentioned as one of our best contestants, isn’t someone that you say, “He’s a great African American cast member” — no, he is one of the greatest cast members this season. The show has done a great job of really including more people, and it really helps with casting. Some of these leads say that they’re really serious about wanting to bring on more diverse cast members that they want to legitimately be their suitors. This isn’t like they’re just going to be there for a couple of nights. We want to make sure that the lead is someone who is open to all different types of people because it just makes the show more interesting, so I think that we’ve stepped up our efforts in the past few years, and now, we have people applying for the show who wouldn’t have in the past.

The entire franchise has only had one lead of color with former “Bachelorette” Rachel Lindsay, but “The Bachelor” still has not had a black lead. Each season casts its lead from the pool of contestants from a season before. Do you think you’ve set up the right cast this season to finally cast a black “Bachelor?”

Look, I think the last several years, that’s been the case. With “Bachelorette,” that was the case with Rachel. And I think last year with Wills [Reid], that was somebody who was under consideration. This season, absolutely we are going to have some guys who will be considered for “Bachelor.”

Is there a specific discussion happening behind the scenes about making it a goal to put a black “Bachelor” in place?

I think it’s always something we’re thinking about that we’ve got to do this. It’s been too long. But it’s not like, “Okay, let’s put these people in to make them ‘The Bachelor’” because still, at the end of the day, you want the best cast, and I think that’s what we have here. Obviously, we are going to want to consider an African American “Bachelor” at some point, so that is always under consideration, but they will have to be on “Bachelorette” for reasons other than that — obviously you can potentially be the person that “The Bachelorette” chooses.

Rachel Lindsay recently said that when she filmed the reunion, which just aired, she was “sad” to look around the room and see no one else who looked like her. What do you think about her comments about the franchise’s lack of diversity?

On one hand, obviously I know what she means. Yes? Is she the only diverse “Bachelorette” at that point? Yes, absolutely. But on the other hand, she never mentioned that when she was “The Bachelorette.” It made me sad because you always want all the cast members to be happy and have a good experience, and I think for the most part, that is how Rachel feels. But obviously, she had that reaction when she got there.

Have you had any serious talks about looking outside the current pool of contestants, and doing an open casting call, rather than selecting a lead from the group of known “Bachelor” contestants, so that you can bring in some new blood?

We’ve talked about that, and certainly that’s something that we’re talking about, even with this next “Bachelor.” But were hard-pressed to find somebody that doesn’t come from here because you’re so invested in the story. We’re certainly open to it.

What can you tease about how Hannah’s season ends?

This could be a situation where one of the guys gets out of the limo to head out to get his heart broken, and all of a sudden, she says, “No, no, no, I’m sorry, he’s the one.” You could see her changing her mind at the last minute. She really is that in love with these last few contestants, and she’s torn over it.

You’ve wrapped filming Hannah’s season, in terms of the planned episodes, but will you continue filming, like you have in the past few seasons, just incase she changes her mind, like Arie Luyendyk Jr?

Of course. Absolutely. No matter what, we’re going to progress this from now until late July or early August when the finale airs because we learned that this thing needs to live after “The Bachelorette” or “Bachelor” fantasy and exist in real life. I think you find some compelling stuff there. What we saw with Arie and Becca [Kufrin] was really riveting. I think of how Colton’s season ended, and that made it go to this next level in terms of honesty and how we morphed into much more real life. And even if it’s just mundane stuff, you can see how they live as a couple. What we’re seeing now is that people are just fascinated with Colton and Cassie and what they’re doing in their everyday life.

Colton and Cassie’s season ended without a proposal and they’re still not engaged, but they’re happily together. Do you think that could be a formula the show follows again, meaning there does not have to be a proposal on the final episode?

Oh, absolutely.

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