“The Bachelor” is hot.
Thanks to compelling casting and some timely production changes, ABC and Warner Horizon TV’s long-running dating show franchise is experiencing an almost unprecedented ratings resurgence this season.
Reversing a Nielsen slide that until recently had threatened the show’s very existence, “The Bachelor” has surged 37% above its last installment and now ranks behind only “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Desperate Housewives” among ABC’s most-watched series among young women.
ABC has taken notice: In addition to an already announced edition of “The Bachelorette” set to air this summer, casting has started on the 14th installment of “The Bachelor,” making another edition of the series a virtual lock.
“It’s a miracle, man,” “Bachelor” creator and executive producer Mike Fleiss told TVWeek on Wednesday. “How many shows have reversed a trend like this? Maybe ‘Family Guy’ and ‘Saturday Night Live.’”
Indeed, while primetime is populated with a number of veteran reality shows that still perform well—“Survivor,” “The Amazing Race,” “The Biggest Loser,” “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and, of course, “American Idol”—the ratings resurrection happening with “The Bachelor” is rare.
During the 2004-05 season, the series was averaging barely 8 million viewers, well off its 2002 zenith, when more than 25 million viewers watched the show’s second-season finale. ABC responded by pulling “The Bachelor” from its fall 2005 lineup.
But rather than give up on the franchise, ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson decided to keep “The Bachelor” on deck, reducing its frequency and relocating it to Monday as a replacement for “Monday Night Football.”
“When I took over (ABC Entertainment), I saw it as a great asset that had fallen on hard times creatively,” Mr. McPherson said. “We put it to the producers that it needed to get better, and to their credit, they stepped up.”
Still, while early ratings on Monday were OK—enough to keep the show alive—they were nothing to get too excited about. The long-term survival of the show wasn’t a certainty.
“Two or three years ago, when we’d be wrapping up a season, I’d be wistful and look around the set and think, ‘This is it. This is the end of an era. This is probably the last time we’ll do this,’” Mr. Fleiss said. “I was trying to feel good about it because of all we had accomplished. I wasn’t ready to let it go, but it seemed as if it was going to expire.”
According to Mr. Fleiss, “the turning point” came during the show’s 11th season, in 2007, when bachelor Brad Womack decided to reject both of his final suitors. “We embraced the story of what was happening, and that’s when the show reinvented itself,” Mr. Fleiss said.
“Since then, we’ve been trying to keep it on the real tip,” he added. “Rather than force the format (onto the contestants), we’ve made the show more real and less predictable.”
“The Bachelor” also has been a priority for Warner Bros. TV chief Peter Roth, who took on oversight of the show a couple years ago when he launched Warner Horizon.
Mr. McPherson, who also wisely used “Dancing With the Stars” to help reintroduce viewers to “The Bachelor,” has been impressed.
“They’ve brought it back to the level that made it a smash hit show,” Mr. McPherson said. While season 14 of “Bachelor” hasn’t been officially greenlit, he indicated that was just a technicality and said he “couldn’t imagine” the show not returning in some form.
Given the show’s ratings, a renewal seems a no-brainer.
According to Nielsen, the current season of “The Bachelor”—featuring rejected “Bachelorette” suitor Jason Mesnick—is averaging 10.4 million viewers and a 3.8/9 among adults 18-49. Airing as a two-hour block from 8-10 p.m. on Mondays, the show has been growing week-to-week since it premiered in early January—the first “Bachelor” to do so since 2003.
And among its target audience of young women, the latest “Bachelor” stands as the No. 6 show on TV among females 18-34, No. 11 among women 18-49 and No. 18 with women 25-54.
Moreover, the last three cycles of “The Bachelor” each have improved upon the ratings of the previous edition.
Mr. Fleiss also said the current edition of the show will end with a “jaw-dropping” finale. Could it be the most dramatic rose ceremony … ever?
“It’s the most dramatic anything ever,” Mr. Fleiss said. “It’s a shocking finish to the show. Just when you think the show is going to end, it doesn’t.”
ABC will air the two-hour finale of “The Bachelor,” along with a reunion show, on March 2 from 8-11 p.m.
ABC has also added a second hour to the "After the Final Rose" reunion special, scheduling the special for Tuesday, March 3, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
While Mr. Fleiss said he’s “so proud” of the show’s return, he doesn’t flinch when asked who was responsible for “The Bachelor’s” near-death experience.
“I’m the one to blame,” he said. “The show was being phoned in there for a couple of seasons. We were a little complacent. I was off making my movies (“Hostel,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) and we all took our eye off the ball. I thought the show would run itself.”
Mr. Fleiss has refocused his energies on “The Bachelor” and the rest of his TV efforts, which he produces in conjunction with his Warner Horizon-based Next Entertainment. That’s included naming “Bachelor” editor Martin Hilton as showrunner, something Mr. Fleiss credits with helping turn the show around.
“These shows are made in post,” Mr. Fleiss said. “He’s able to think about a show and how it’s cut together in advance.”
Mr. Fleiss also is thankful to ABC for sticking by his show.
“They’ve been supportive of the creative changes on the show, they’ve given us a nice time period, and they let us make the show we want to make,” he said.
Meanwhile, the legacy of “The Bachelor” lives on in ways other than its primetime run on ABC. While there have been more than a few ripoffs of “Survivor” and “American Idol” over the years, few reality TV insiders would argue with the notion that no format has been as blatantly copied as “The Bachelor.”
Mr. Fleiss said of all the clones of his creation, Fox’s “Joe Millionaire” remains his favorite.
As for the others? “I wouldn’t mind getting royalties,” he laughed. “Or at least a thank-you call.”
(Editor: Baumann. Updated 10 p.m. to add special episode .)