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‘The Bachelorette’ Cautiously Targeting Fall Season After Coronavirus Shutdown, ‘Bachelor In Paradise’ in Limbo (EXCLUSIVE)

THE BACHELORette
ABC

When “The Bachelor” franchise launched in 2002, the very first season aired in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The original idea was to shoot the final rose ceremony in front of the Eiffel Tower, but due to safety precautions in the wake of 9/11, production was limited to domestic locations, so plans for the romantic Paris proposal were nixed.

Nearly two decades later, the ABC franchise is dealing with another unexpected tragedy: the coronavirus outbreak. And once again, the globe-trotting show will be forced to shoot domestically — and within the confines of a quarantined location.

While all plans are a work in progress and subject to change, given the uncertainty surrounding future government-mandated stay-at-home orders, Season 16 of “The Bachelorette” is tentatively aiming to head into production sometime this summer. If those production plans can move forward, the new season would likely air in the fall, Variety has learned.

“Clare’s season is happening one hundred percent,” ABC’s reality chief Rob Mills tells Variety, debunking any rumors that the season, starring Clare Crawley, would be canceled due to coronavirus concerns; the only question is when exactly the season will be able to head into production.

As Variety previously reported, the new season would shoot within the confines of one large location, which is yet to be determined. All contestants and crew members will be tested before entering the private venue, and then effectively quarantined on-site for the duration of the season’s shoot.

“We’ve looked at everything — are travel restrictions going to ease up? And it just doesn’t look like anything is changing anytime soon, and what we would rather do is start getting the season underway, sooner rather than later,” Mills says. “As of right now, the plan is to get a great location that has a ton of space where everybody could safely be together and we can still have great dates that still feel big and romantic, and we would shoot the entire season there.”

Sources say production on “Bachelorette” shut down in March just one day before the infamous limo-arrivals scene was set to tape, meaning the first episode was never completed. Since no footage with Crawley’s contestants has been shot, the network is taking advantage of the production delay to do some additional casting, meaning there could be new suitors who have not been announced. On the flip side, since the casting process is still underway, some of the original contestants may not appear in the season at all.

“The Bachelor” franchise typically takes contestants to hyper-romantic, over-the-top locations around the world for international dates, but travel this season will be banned. If anything, road trips might be explored, but only if deemed safe and in-line with social distancing regulations, which at this time, are unknown for the middle of summer.

As for the hometown-dates episode in which the star travels home to visit families of the finalists, “All of this is still being figured out,” Mills says.

The production timeline is still very much unknown, given the worldwide uncertainty and rapidly-changing information concerning COVID-19. “If I’m being realistic, it would probably be mid-summer that we start,” Mills says, adding that the season would then likely be ready to air this fall.

Host Chris Harrison emphasizes that nothing is certain and all plans are in flux.

“It would be crazy for us to say that we know what anything is going to look like — not even television, I’m just talking the world in general,” Harrison says. “We don’t know when we come out of this, what it’s going to look like as far as getting back to social distancing, can you get 10 people in a control room? Can you get 20 people in a control room? How are we going to shoot this safely?”

However, given the uncharted territory of this upcoming season, Harrison notes the silver lining in this exploratory phase is bringing staff members back into the workforce.

“The good news is we are starting to get producers back to work. People that can work from home, as far as trying to look at locations, asking can we travel, or do we need to just bunker in place and have one main campus?” Harrison says. “The options are endless, and we’re just trying to have ten great ideas so that when the governor or the President set these guidelines, we’ll hopefully have a plan in place and we’d get back to work as soon as possible.”

The longtime “Bachelor” host believes the tone of Crawley’s season might shift a bit, in reaction to the pandemic, simply as a reflection of the world’s new normal.

“When people talk about reopening America, I think people freak out. Even in our communities, if they said you could go to restaurants and bars tomorrow, I think we’d all be a little bit weary, so, it’s going to be a little bit different,” Harrison explains. “I’m sure for Clare and the men she’s dating, it’s going to be a little bit different. We’ll have to lean into that a little bit, but hopefully not too much. ”

The coronavirus shutdown has created a domino effect for “The Bachelor” franchise, which would typically be gearing up to premiere “The Bachelorette” right about now, and then would have summer series “Bachelor In Paradise” set to air in August. ABC also shelved a new series, “Bachelor Summer Games,” and had a new spinoff in the works, a show focused on finding love for senior citizens.

In a perfect world, ABC would like to produce a new season of “Bachelor In Paradise” this year, but with the shift in production schedules, that seems like a far reach, since the network’s top priority remains “The Bachelorette” and “The Bachelor.” (Though “Paradise” has always been a summer series, the network would be open to airing the show during a different timeframe in the year, if they production a new season.)

“We’re certainly discussing it and how it could work and if it could work, but we want to make sure that the next season of ‘The Bachelor’ stays on track because that’s something that everybody looks forward to at the beginning of the year,” Mills says. “The goal is to make sure we absolutely have ‘Bachelorette’ and ‘Bachelor,’ and then, if there’s a way to do ‘Bachelor In Paradise,’ we would love to do it.”

“It does seem extremely unlikely, as far as going to Mexico,” Harrison echoes.

The senior citizen spinoff, which had already begun casting, was in the very early stages, but was initially strongly considered to air this fall. “Now, there’s a pin in that,” Mills confirms.

With so much up in the air, at this point, the only concrete plan for Bachelor Nation is a new summer series that will take a retrospective look at the past 18 years of the franchise. Hosted by Harrison and debuting Jan. 8 for an eight-week run, ABC greenlit the greatest-hits show, titled, “The Most Unforgettable – Ever!,” to fill the drought of “Bachelor” content this summer, Variety exclusively reported.

Though getting “The Bachelorette” ready for fall is the goal, Mills cautions, “There’s a lot of stuff in flux on the broadcast networks, in terms of what the TV season is going to look like,” referring to production shut-downs across the industry, which have halted work on all scripted series, leaving networks to go into their stockpile of alternative programming, which is easier to produce remotely.

Leading all of ABC’s unscripted programming, Mills has been tasked with becoming more creative to generate content, while Hollywood is shutdown. This past weekend, “American Idol” aired its first remote episode with the Top 20 musicians and judges all appearing from their homes, and recently, the network recently aired an at-home Disney celebrity singalong, featuring stars like Ariana Grande, Christina Aguilera and the cast of “High School Musical.” Mills says his team is also currently exploring how to get some of the network’s gameshows up-and-running.

“It’s definitely been busier because this is the stuff that can be produced quickly,” Mills says. “But obviously, you want everything to come back. We certainly do not want ABC to turn into an alternative network. We need all of our scripted shows sooner rather than later, but for right now, this is how we can get some new content up.”

If “The Bachelorette” could air in the fall, it could coincide with the next season of “Dancing With the Stars,” which typically airs during the fall TV season — should social distancing measures be lifted by September, so that pros and celebrities can dance together, of course. (“The Bachelor” franchise has year-round programming, but typically takes a break in the fall, as a strategy to get viewers excited for the flagship “Bachelor,” which airs in the winter.)

“It’s all preliminary, but I think you can have room for both ‘Bachelorette’ and ‘Dancing With the Stars,'” Mills says. “The big question is who knows when scripted will be back, so there might be a need for ‘Bachelorette’ and ‘DWTS’ to co-exist at the same time. I think we will look at every different scenario, but clearly, we love ‘Dancing’ and we love ‘Bachelorette,’ and to be able to have them both on at the same time is a high-class problem.”

Noting the uncharted territory that the entertainment industry is facing, the executive gives a sobering assessment of the current landscape of the unknown.

“We had all these plans for more unscripted because there was the potential of a writers’ strike,” Mills says. “And now, no, it’s not the writers’ strike — it’s a pandemic. You just never know.”