After the most dramatic season in the history of “The Bachelor” franchise, “Bachelorette” Tayshia Adams got her happy ending in one of the most conventional finales in recent years.
From Arie Luyendyk Jr. to Peter Weber to Hannah Brown, recent seasons of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” have seen couples break up, change their minds and move on to another contestant — all in the months between filming and airtime.
But Adams — who replaced original star Clare Crawley in the middle of the season — has found what appears to be true TV love with one of her suitors, Zac Clark. His proposal in the finale marked the culmination of a season that survived an unprecedented casting shakeup, a production shutdown and shooting in a sequestered bubble due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“They are engaged and incredibly happy,” ABC Ent.’s senior vice president, alternative series, specials & late-night programming, Rob Mills, says of Adams and Clark.
Clark, an addiction specialist, had one of the most vulnerable moments this season when he opened up about his past struggles with substance abuse and told Adams about hitting rock bottom, during one of their dates. After spending time in rehab, Clark is now living his life to the fullest, and has dedicated his career to helping others through recovery.
Typically, viewers get to catch-up with the new couple during “After the Final Rose,” which airs after the finale. This year, host Chris Harrison would have had to sit down with two couples — Adams and Clark, and Crawley and Dale Moss, the contestant for which she departed the season early and to whom she got engaged after only a matter of weeks. But this year, that hour was nixed because of COVID-19 production complications.
“As wonderful as it is that we have these happy couples, we didn’t really need Chris to sit and dig in. We can follow them all on Instagram now. They’re all doing great,” Mills says.
Mills also told Variety that “After the Final Rose” seemed like an unnecessary burden for the production team that had bent over backwards throughout the pandemic to safely produce their shows. (As the first major U.S. show to resume projection during the pandemic earlier this year, producers quarantined away from their families for three months to shoot “Bachelorette” in 125-degree heat at La Quinta Resort & Club near Palm Springs, Calif., and then went straight to a resort in Pennsylvania to shoot Matt James’ season of “Bachelor,” again sequestered away from their homes.)
“They really needed a break,” Mills says, praising all of the producers and crew members. “So, on December 22, to say, ‘Let’s go live for “After the Final Rose,”‘ it just didn’t really make sense. We don’t really need one.”
Here, Mills talks with Variety about all the behind-the-scenes details of “The Bachelorette” Season 16, plus gives a preview into the new season of “The Bachelor” with James.
Despite all the road bumps with the Clare and Tayshia casting shakeup, do you feel like the season worked out?
I do. I think it was great. We look at every season and see what we have learned from the last and what can we do better in the next. One thing we spoke about last season with Peter [Weber] was is the cast too young? In having Clare, who was a little bit older, and Tayshia, too, who was a bit older and has had life experience, I think it led to a really great, memorable season with really memorable dates and conversations. One thing I heard over and over again is how great these guys were. And we ended up with two really happy couples.
When you cast Clare, you had no idea that you would eventually bring in Tayshia as a replacement. Do you think the season was enhanced by the switch?
You couldn’t get two better leads with Clare and Tayshia. When both were announced at their separate times, we had such a rapturous response, which I think is because they’re some of the most beloved people in “Bachelor” history. You’ve seen them both in a more casual setting with “[Bachelor In] Paradise,” so you feel like you know them. The level of investment we all had for Clare and Tayshia was so much more than had they just been in their respective seasons of “The Bachelor.”
The season was a bit messy, but the finale was straight down the middle, unlike some recent seasons that have had very messy endings. And now, you have a good track record with not one, but two, happy couples from Season 16.
You can’t force it, but you do need that because otherwise, it looks like the show is just about a train wreck. For us, we do take pride in the fact that there have been marriages and babies that have come from this.
Both Clare and Tayshia got engaged, and appear to be quite happy in their relationships, months after filming has wrapped. Do you think the pandemic has anything to do with it? A lot of studies show that people have more of a desire to find their life partner during these isolating times.
A lot of it was timing. You can certainly say that the pandemic changed everything. For Clare, she spent all this time thinking about these guys and then she met Dale and knew immediately. There was a lot of time for reflection through quarantining. And for the guys, you had to really want to be there — the fact that we had announced Matt James already meant you’re not there to be “The Bachelor,” or to get 15 stamps on your passport [with travel restrictions]. You were there to fall in love.
Since you brought it up, there were a lot of tabloid rumors that Clare and Dale had been speaking before the season starting filming. Once and for all, on the record, can you clear up those rumors: Were Clare and Dale in communication before the season began?
She researched Dale like anyone would — and anyone who says they don’t research people is a liar. One of the reasons why this show works is because it’s relatable, and that’s what people do in the real world. You look people up. Clare didn’t do anything that any other human being wouldn’t have done. But outside of that, absolutely not.
Some people on Twitter said throughout the season that it was it unfair to Tayshia to have to date guys who were cast for Clare, like sloppy seconds. Do you think that was unfair?
At the end of the day, you’re looking for one person. If anyone has the right to say it wasn’t fair, it would be Tayshia, and I think she would say it’s more than fair because she found her guy. I think it was fine. If people think that was unfair that we kept Clare’s guys, I’m sorry, but really the only person I care about who thinks if it was fair or not is Tayshia — and she’s happy.
Would it have been unfair to the guys if Clare stayed on the show for the full season? Because a lot of people on Twitter thought it was very unfair during those early episodes.
At the very beginning, the guys started to see that Clare was so into Dale that it was really tough for them. It always felt like really early on Clare zeroed into Dale, and to Clare’s credit, the fact that she said she wanted to end it because it was Dale or nothing was really great because she could have just gone through the motions, but she didn’t. It allowed the guys to not get too far in with Clare.
This was the first major U.S. series to head into production amid the coronavirus shutdown. What would you have done differently this season, if you could have done anything different?
The season was executed beautifully. There was really nothing we could have done differently. Health and safety were priority No. 1. In September, we could have been tempted because things seemed to be getting better, but everyone in production was so rigid in making sure that not one person could test positive.
What did you learn from this quarantined season that you brought into Matt’s season of “The Bachelor”?
Production found a way to expand, and what we learned was to make it even bigger for Matt’s season. At [the resort where “The Bachelor” filmed], you could do bigger dates like skydiving and car racing — things that feel bigger. This was a smaller footprint [where “The Bachelorette” filmed], but I wouldn’t have done a bigger footprint because that would have been biting off more than we could chew with the pandemic.
The conversations this season delved into more serious subject matter like addiction, mental health and race. Do you think the fact that the cast was confined to one space enabled them to focus more on learning about each other? In other words, was this season more like real life, rather than a TV show?
Having to focus on the human aspect of the dates, more of the conversations were leading to better storylines. I think sometimes you can hide behind the glamour of a big date or travel.
Creatively, was that a silver lining of the pandemic restrictions that you will carry over into future seasons?
I think there was more emotion that we will carry over, even once we can get out of the bubbles.
The subject matter of the conversations during the dates were more impactful than any other season — from Ben revealing he attempted suicide twice, to Zac revealing that he went to rehab for addiction. How did these sorts of topics come about?
When you have people with those stories, it always comes out, but I think it was a combination of a lot of things. One of the things that really helped is the fact that you have guys that were a little bit older. You have Ben talking about mental health, and he had a full career in the army. These aren’t people who just graduated college. These people have real life experiences. Also, I think it was a result of this whole year — 2020 made everyone think about things they hadn’t thought about before the pandemic. And for the cast, there wasn’t jet lag and there wasn’t exhaustion from travel, so there was time to really think and reflect.
It also seems like a sign of the times — people are much more open about their mental health these days because it’s becoming less stigmatized. But that’s an interesting point about the casting and aging up, in comparison to past seasons.
You may not have a massive story to tell, but you’ll have more to say at 33 than you do at 23, and I think that went a long way.
One of the most significant moments of the season is when Tayshia and Ivan spoke about Black Lives Matters during their date. Do you think that footage would have been included in a season years ago? I’m not signaling “The Bachelor” franchise out, but it feels like we wouldn’t have seen this sort of conversation on any reality dating show five to 10 years ago.
It does feel like you didn’t see this on TV before. But I’m hard-pressed to find a conversation that we couldn’t have aired [in the past]. It wasn’t like we had these conversations and never aired them, so I don’t know that we’ve ever been one to shy away from it. That’s more interesting than someone talking about something that doesn’t feel consequential, so just from a TV perspective, it’s riveting. It’s good TV.
The conversation felt very organic and very timely. How did that discussion come about?
I think it’s the world we’re living in. And certainly not to pat ourselves on the back in any way, but it has been great that there has been so much more diversity in the casts. That certainly helps. If you’re going to have a conversation about Black Lives Matter, it’s going to be between Ivan and Tayshia. It would have been hard for them to have this date and not talk about this — it’s what is going on in the world. We shot that in late July or early August, so it was very fresh.
Matt James is the first-ever Black star of “The Bachelor, and he’s also brand new to Bachelor Nation, having never appeared on another season within the franchise. What can you tell me about him?
He really is great. It’s great to have a guy that we haven’t seen before. He’s very sincere. He’s very thoughtful. He admits, at the beginning, that he’s never been in love before. And the girls on his season are just fantastic.
On Tayshia’s season, hometown dates were on-location within the sequestered bubble. Will hometown dates be done in the same pandemic-proof way on Matt’s season?
We actually loved how hometowns went this season. It was very interesting. It’s wonderful to see where people grew up and where they lived, but these hometowns were great and there was just no reason to change it. Safety is so important here.
This season feels like it took a bit longer to get to know the guys and see a real connection with Tayshia, but as a viewer, I felt like Zac and Tayshia really bonded during his New York City themed hometown date with the fake taxi. It was really sweet, and it did feel like a nice switch to the hometown formats.
It was so much fun. Although, I have never seen anyone hail a taxi like that.
Yes, it was like they were making fun of a 1950s black-and-white movie set in New York.
And if we’re getting specific here, no one would ever be able to get a bagel with blueberries on it in New York City. That’s an L.A. thing, maybe.
Yes, it looked like a frozen yogurt shop. [Laughs]
Correct, no bagel shop in New York would ever have toppings like that. But besides that, I thought Zac’s hometown date was really when you saw them connect and could see him being the winner.
Zac lives everything fully. When he found out his parents were coming, he started to cry. Zac says his last name a lot — I think he’s really proud of himself and his family. He’s come really far and he’s come through a lot of hardship. So, it was nice to see some levity with Zac just having some fun on that date. That was where you watched this couple and saw they are meant to be with each other. You could see they are going to have so much fun together in their marriage.