There are few certainties with the passage of time, but one of them appears to be this: Every January, ABC will unveil a fresh new season of The Bachelor — with Zach Shallcross as this year’s pick to dole out the roses — and there will be no shortage of contestants accused of not being here for the “right reasons.”
The long-running dating franchise continues to generate plenty of conversation, which was true of the memorable but bumpy most recent season of The Bachelorette, following which neither of the two co-leads, Gabby Windey and Rachel Recchia, is currently dating their pick from the show. Shallcross, who left the show heartbroken following an unaired conversation with Recchia, begins his second chance at love with his season premiere Monday.
Ahead of the launch, Walt Disney Television executive vp unscripted and alternative Rob Mills chatted with The Hollywood Reporter about casting challenges, the importance of finding couples who can go the distance and whether viewers will ever get to root for a senior Bachelor. The interview below is expanded from a conversation published Friday that focused on a broader look at the current unscripted-TV landscape.
There was fan chatter ahead of Gabby and Rachel’s co-season of The Bachelorette that maybe it’s a good thing to refresh the format in a major way. Was this part of the intention, and how do you feel now about the way their season went?
I definitely think that the real producers of The Bachelor are the audience. You’re always listening to what they want to see, what they don’t want to see. But in terms of Gabby and Rachel being the Bachelorettes, that really was more at looking at how the season went with Clayton. It just felt like every time he had tried to break up with them, he broke up with them together. It would be unfair to sit at After the Final Rose and tell one of those girls, “You’re gonna be the Bachelorette,” and the other one, “You’re not.” And it really came from that. It was not by design or thinking that we need to blow up the format. Like everything, you just had to follow where the story goes, and when you do that, you’re usually rewarded. I think that’s what we’re so excited about with Zach’s season, is that it’s just great, classic Bachelor storytelling.
On Netflix, the dating series The Ultimatum is returning soon with an LGBTQ season. Has there been talk with your team about trying an LGBTQ dating format, whether that’s Bachelor-branded or not?
We look at everything. You want it to be the right thing and not feel like you’re doing it just to do it, but it has to feel purposeful and right. But absolutely, we should be looking at all of these things.
Does the Bachelor franchise need to keep finding lasting couples in order for the audience to remain invested, or do you think the drama is enough of a draw?
It’s very important for us to have couples that last. Obviously, that is very hard. A lot of the couples recently haven’t stayed together, so that’s obviously not something you’re aiming to do. We have to remember, we have had other successful Bachelorette couples. Serene [Russell], Brandon [Jones] — who we saw on Bachelor in Paradise — are still doing fantastic. We went into Gabby and Rachel’s season thinking it was twice the Bachelorettes, so twice the amount of a successful couple. So that was disappointing that we fell short for them.
The other thing that comes out of a bad show, though, is that these people do learn a lot about themselves and find themselves ready to settle down and find their person. Matt James and Rachel are still going strong, and we’re hopeful for Zach’s season as well. But yes, absolutely, for us at top of the list is making successful couples because the audience is invested in them, and you want to make sure that they still stay invested. If it looks like it’s just a show that’s drama for drama’s sake, then they’re going to lose interest.
It’s been quite some time since ABC first talked about doing a golden-years version of The Bachelor. Any updates on that?
It’s the one I get asked about the most, which means people really love this idea. For us, the most important thing is that we get the exact right person, whether it’s a Bachelor or Bachelorette, and it’s somebody that everyone wants to see us tell their story and that everyone gets invested in seeing them find love. So we’re still casting, we’re looking — but once we find that perfect person, absolutely it’s one we’re going to do.
There was social media debate over Zach’s season representing the second white star in a row after Matt was the first-ever Black lead. Why was Zach the right choice?
I think it is a feeling. We were very lucky with Gabby and Rachel’s Bachelorette season that we met with a lot of great guys. Zach seemed to be the right guy — the guy that was really looking to find his person and settle down and just felt like, at this time, he would be the right guy, which is how we go about it every season. Obviously, we’ve made strides in diversity. We need to keep doing more, and we will. But everyone is gonna see Zach is a fantastic Bachelor, just like any of the other candidates we’ve met with would be as well.
One of the topics of conversation during Gabby and Rachel’s season surrounded a resurfaced blackface photo of Erich Schwer, who proposed to Gabby on the show before they broke up a short time later. Should the vetting process continue to evolve?
It’s always evolving, so we’re obviously trying to get better. Obviously, your goal is to have zero issues. As we go season by season, we try and get better and better because we hate when these issues come up. I do think we are improving, and we’re learning how to perfect this as we keep doing it.
There was talk previously that perhaps Michael A. would be a good Bachelor, and then as we saw on the most recent Bachelor in Paradise, he was probably meant to find love on that show instead. How do you feel about the evolution of Paradise after the latest season?
For us, it’s really about making sure that we are focusing on the stories and making sure that it’s people that you really want to see fall in love again. That was gratifying to see people like Michael A., and Serene and Brandon, and even the love stories that don’t work out. You really get invested in these people and them falling in love — that’s the most important thing. As we keep evolving the Bachelor franchise, at the end of the day, it’s still always going to be about love and telling these people’s story in the best way possible.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Zach Shallcross’ season of The Bachelor premieres Monday at 8 p.m. on ABC.