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‘The Bachelor’: ABC Exec on Hannah’s Return, Off-Screen Rumors & Peter’s Dramatic Journey

The Bachelor” is back with its 24th season, starring Peter Weber, who was a fan favorite and finalist on Hannah Brown’s season of “The Bachelorette.”

Known for having sex four times in a windmill with Brown, the pilot and California native reunited with his TV ex-girlfriend in the premiere, which escalated into a dramatic turn of events on the show.

Before its premiere, the season has already been fueled by off-camera drama, thanks to super-sleuth fans and reports that have suggested one contestant was perhaps cast solely just to create drama — causing viewers to question whether the reality show is real or overproduced.

Here, ABC reality chief Rob Mills clears up those rumors, discusses why Brown returned and previews what to expect with Weber’s own quest for love.

Why did you ultimately end up selecting Peter as “The Bachelor”?

We met with a lot of candidates and you just sort of know when you talk in the room with them about why they want to do it. What was interesting with Peter is he really is ready. He worked so hard to get his career off the ground and the fact that he’s a commercial pilot this young is really something of an achievement. So he had every single thing in his life ready except this one thing, which he desperately wanted, which is to find his wife. And he’s someone who the women all really loved him in casting, so of course, that always goes a long way.

Peter was also a fan of the show, and actually applied for years before being cast in Hannah’s season, so did that add to his excitement to be the lead?

He is a super fan of the show, which is kind of interesting and different — he still gets starstruck by the mansion and Chris Harrison, so that was always fun.

Are you happy with how the season turned out?

I am thrilled with how the season turned out. There is so much drama and laughs and tears. The locations are great, the dates are great. I think Peter is phenomenal Bachelor: He’s charming; he’s funny; all of these women love him. Peter was definitely one of those guys where he wants to fall in love and he wants to find his wife, and he was open to all of them.

When did you wrap filming the season?

Right before Thanksgiving.

The last three seasons have not been a clear ending because they’ve all either chosen one person and then changed their mind, or broken up after filming wrapped, so the finales have not been the true finale. Would you say this season wraps more traditionally with a happily ever after?

It’s interesting you bring that up because the last three seasons, what we learned is that the season is not really ever done. You asked when we wrapped filming and yes, technically we’re done, but we’re not really done because they’re living their real life, so it doesn’t really end until the finale airs. You never know what’s going to happen. Last season when we spoke ahead of Hannah’s season, I would have said it is a really great ending and she’s very happy — because at that point, she was very happy with Jed. With Colton’s season, we knew once he jumped the fence [that] this was a weird season. But with this one, this is a season that has a ton of twists and turns, but you never know what might happen between now and when the finale ends in March.

Even though the ending could change, right now, would you say that Peter is happy?

I would definitely say he’s happy.

Is there a clear front-runner this season?

You see things change weekly. There is not one clear front-runner, really the entire time.

Who do you think are the standout contestants to keep an eye on?

I think the one who will be the biggest lighting rod will be Victoria F., who is someone who people have already been talking about. There is also one girl who she is a virgin and, very similar to Luke P., when it gets to fantasy suites, she says if you’re going to be intimate with these women, this isn’t right for me, so that is an interesting conversation and that’s someone to look out for. And the fact that there is another Hannah on this season is really interesting because he was in love with one, so it will be interesting to see how he feels about another one. But there are a ton to look out for, and I will say that they all are really great women this season.

I know that you don’t like to label any particular contestant as a “villain,” but the viewers do. So who do you think that will be? Is it Victoria F.?

Look, I could see potentially that happening. I think there are a few women who could get the label. But, I think the way the show is produced has evolved and it’s not like, “Oh that’s the villain” anymore. There are more shades of gray and we try to explain to you more why this person is that way. At the very least, you might have people who label someone as a villain, but you’ll have more sympathy than before.

There have been a lot of rumors about Victoria, including that she dated a musician who is performing at one of her dates with Peter. Viewers are wondering if the show is over-produced. You do background checks, so obviously you know who these contestants have dated in the past. What’s your response?

Look, I can’t say that certain things just happen completely by accident. You’d have to be an idiot to buy that some of these things are just happenstance. So yes, there is a girl and there is an entertainer on one of the dates and she happened to run into him. We don’t go in saying that we’re going to reverse engineer this, but when you find out about these things, you have to take advantage of it because it is great TV. So, I wouldn’t say over-produced, but I would say very well-produced. When you watch it, you will say, “Wow, that was great TV.”

Yes, it’s a TV show, but it’s also people’s real lives that you’re dealing with, so where is the line?

As long as we’re not sabotaging Peter’s chance at finding happiness, then absolutely, we’ve got to produce the most entertaining TV. This is a TV show. I’m asking our viewers to spend 25 hours or so with us between January and March, so I’ve got to entertain you. But most importantly, we have to feel at the end of the day that we’ve done our job and that Peter has found the girl that is right for him. We would never say, “If we hadn’t done this or this, things could have turned out much differently.”

You mentioned that there is a contestant who is a virgin. We saw that with Colton, and obviously Hannah’s season dealt with that with Luke P., and her season was really applauded for being so sex-positive. Does this season also have sex and intimacy at the forefront?

Yes, and I think that’s why the show feels like it has evolved: because we deal with sex and sexuality on the nose blatantly, and it leads to great conversations about what role does intimacy play in a relationship. That’s a real issue that everyone deals with.

Hannah’s season dealt with the intersection of sex and religion, and the show got a lot of positive feedback for her role in that discussion and for tackling that on broadcast TV. Are there any topics addressed this season that you’re particularly proud of for starting a conversation?

I think just really continuing to be open about the fact that sex is a part of all of our lives and this is an issue that everyone deals with. But I don’t think we’ve broken new ground on this season with any theme that hasn’t been discussed before. I think there is a pretty high bar set now with both sexuality and having a same-sex couple on “Bachelor In Paradise” this past summer.

Is there a differentiating, standout moment this season?

This is just a season where a guy is really looking for his soulmate, which leads to probably one of the most dramatic seasons we’ve ever had. I will say that when you get to the hometown dates, there is something you have never seen before. This is a hometown date that is one that you’ve never seen. And the meet-the-family dates at the end is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, so there’s a lot of new stuff that you’ll see this season.

Speaking of Peter’s family, Peter’s mom cheering him on when Hannah said they had sex in the windmill was an iconic TV moment. Will we be seeing more of her?

Oh, don’t worry. We realize that Peter’s mom is a star.

Hannah comes back in Peter’s season. How does that change things?

She shows up night one under the guise of closure to basically give her blessing that his wife is in the mansion and he can spread his wings, and it’s very friendly and it’s nice. But then what happens, as a bridge between Episode 1 and 2, there was a group date and it’s all about physical, intimate, sexual experiences. On the show, if it makes sense to have someone from the past come back, then it make sense, and with this, it’s Hannah because she says everyone now the story about her and Peter and the windmill, so that happens. But then when she sees Peter, something clicks between both of them and they realize maybe this wasn’t necessarily really over, so it leads to something that was very real with real feelings and they realize there was not closure there. It was very different than anything we’ve ever really had on the show.

Do you think viewers are going to be let down that Hannah’s return ends up being overblown and was edited to seem like a big deal in promos? Or is it really a big deal?

When you bring someone back just as a device, it doesn’t really work.  A lot of times when we tease things, people think, “Oh, it’s just editing or they’re trying to make us feel like something is happening,” and I will admit, most of the time that is true because it’s a promotable thing, and it seems like there’s going to be more drama than there is, but then it just ends up being a friendly interaction. This was definitely very emotional and springboards the season into a different direction that we thought it would go.

Hannah was on “Dancing With The Stars,” so it’s hard to believe she would actually be a big part of the season and stay in the mansion. Did she stay longer than the producers planned for her to be there?

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to figure out that she was doing “Dancing With The Stars” that whole time, and you see that they’re practicing all week basically, so she does not join the mansion, but that does not mean there is not necessarily something that doesn’t happen between her and Peter.

Such as?

They talk about things that you wouldn’t expect, like, “What would it be like if you came and joined the mansion?” They basically are like, “How would this work? What do we do? We still have these feelings.” It’s very emotional. There are a lot of tears on both sides. You’ll see how it resolves itself and how long it takes. I can’t say how much of the season it will impact, but it is definitely something something that you wouldn’t expect.

Does it feel to you like there is more excitement and chatter about this season than there typically is?

This is the first time, in a long time, where it feels like all of the seasons recently have been really good — it feels like one built off of another, and it feels like it’s been more in the consciousness than ever. Colton was really strong, and then Hannah really took the baton and made it even bigger, and then based on that, with Peter, it feels like a sequel that everyone is excited to see.

It does feel like all of the storylines are connected, which is perfect for Bachelor Nation.

Yeah. After Rachel’s season when we went to Arie, it felt like we were starting over. Even though it’s “The Bachelor” and you have everything that you love like Chris Harrison and roses, you’re still starting that timeline over fresh. Now we’ve had Arie into Becca into Colton into Hannah into Peter, so there’s a real through-line there.

Hannah being on “Dancing With The Stars” also kept her and “The Bachelor” franchise very much top of mind. Do you think that fed into the heightened excitement for Peter’s season?

Oh, definitely. It is so interesting because on that show, whenever we’ve had leads of “The Bachelor” or “Bachelorette,” they usually only last until the middle of the season because I think viewers feel like they’ve just spent so much time with all of these people already on the show, so the fact that she made it not only to the middle of the show, but also won was really a testament to the affection for her.

“The Bachelor” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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