Is Honeymoon Over for ABC’s ‘Bachelor’?

Apr 18, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The blooming rose that was once ABC’s signature reality series “The Bachelor” is no longer so fresh.

As next month’s upfront week looms, ABC is faced with evaluating the future of the 4-year-old show, whose current installment, the show’s 10th, is so far engaging the series’ smallest audience. While the “Bachelor” franchise aired three times per season during the 2002-03, 2003-04 and 2004-05 TV seasons, it’s possible the show won’t be back in 2005-06 at all. As of late last week ABC had not exercised its option on “Bachelor” beyond the round that’s on the air now.

Andrea Wong, ABC’s executive VP of alternative programming, specials and late-night, said that while “Bachelor” (which comprises both “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette”) has earned its network stripes, it’s questionable whether the franchise can continue to sustain three installments a year. Ms. Wong said she does not know whether the show will continue with the same scheduling.

“This is the [10th] cycle of the series,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of ‘Bachelor’ and ‘Bachelorette’ installments. You have to constantly re-evaluate.”

Mike Fleiss, the show’s creator, said Ms. Wong’s assessment shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“It was never really designed to be three times a year,” he said. “The more times you do it, the less special it is. The concept was to make this guy ‘The Bachelor,’ this gal ‘The Bachelorette,’ a real celebrity. If there [were] three ‘American Idols’ a year, it wouldn’t be special. Now that [‘Bachelor’] has been seen more, it would probably be better in more sporadic usage.”

Jim Paratore, executive VP of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution and president of Telepictures Productions, which produces ‘Bachelor,’ said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the franchise’s return for the 2005-06 season. For him, its place in television is clear.

“It is one of the premiere reality series of our generation,” he said. “‘Survivor’ and ‘Bachelor’ are the only reality shows on the air with 10 arcs. It’s still a really strong demo hit.”

Despite a decline in its adults 18 to 49 audience, a core of young female viewers has remained with “Bachelor.”

Ms. Wong said the franchise’s ratings have been more consistent than many other prime-time relationship shows, such as Fox’s “Temptation Island” and NBC’s “Who Wants to Marry My Dad?” at least in part because of the strength of the “Bachelor” format.

“It helps that it was first,” she said, “but it is the most pure of all of them. There is no prize at the end. There is no money involved. Everyone is there with the hope of falling in love.”

The franchise, which takes a single person looking for love and offers him or her25 suitors also looking for a life mate, has proved that finding that perfect partner is no easier on TV than it is with real-life blind dates, Internet services or dating agencies. Of the 10 installments, only one has produced a till-death-do-us-part wedding, while several have produced tabloid-friendly breakups, complete with tears and recriminations.

Mr. Fleiss said he at first was concerned that the viability of the show’s long-term relationship with viewers would depend on being able to make matches stick.

“We thought, ‘Oh my god, what are we going to do?” he said about the first installment, which did not result in a permanent coupling.

But ultimately, the fact that so many bachelors and bachelorettes have come away empty-hearted hasn’t hurt the franchise, in his estimation. If anything, it has made it stronger, since viewers know the matches aren’t television fabrications, Mr. Fleiss said.

“It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened,” he said. “They are going to do what they are going to do and that’s what makes the show unpredictable.”The franchise’s performance this season is markedly different from its first few installments.

“The Bachelor” premiered Monday, March 25, 2002, at 9 p.m. (ET), scoring a 4.0 in adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research. By the show’s April 25 finale, where Stanford business school graduate Alex Michel chose Amanda Marsh over Trista Rehn, the show’s adults 18 to 49 rating had grown 83 percent to a 7.3. For the 2001-02 prime-time season, “Bachelor” was ranked No. 27 in the demo with a 4.6, tied with the network’s crime drama “NYPD Blue” and beating everything else on the network besides “Monday Night Football” and “The Practice.”

In October 2002 the second installment of “Bachelor” aired Wednesdays, with Missouri banker Aaron Buerge as the bachelor. The show’s Nov. 20 finale scored an 11.9 in the demo, a series high for the franchise.

A spring installment featured tire heir Andrew Firestone, who chose Chicago event planner Jen Schefft.

For the 2002-03 season, the two installments of “Bachelor” ranked No. 13 in the demo with a 6.9, the highest-rated show for ABC other than the January 2003 debut of “The Bachelorette,” which featured the returning Ms. Rehn, this time choosing a mate among 25 men. Viewers launched “Bachelorette” into the adults 18 to 49 top 10 with a 7.8 rating for the season. Ms. Rehn’s relationship with Colorado firefighter Ryan Sutter became a media sensation and culminated in their televised nuptials.

“The country wanted to see this crazy couple go through with it,” Mr. Fleiss said. During November and December 2003, ABC aired a three-part series of hour-long specials profiling the events surrounding the couple’s wedding in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

According to Mr. Fleiss, only one other franchise couple is still together-Bachelor No. 6, Byron Velvick, and Mary Delgado-but no plans have been made in terms of marriage. Mr. Fleiss also said he doubted Mr. Velvick and Ms. Delgado would get the same kind of on-air treatment if they decide to wed.

“The first time around it was something spectacular,” he said. “It certainly wouldn’t be so exciting this time around.”

For the 2003-04 season, the fall and spring installments of “Bachelor” were down to No. 15 in the demo with a 5.8, while “Bachelorette” dropped to No. 22 with a 5.2. For the current season through April 11, “Bachelorette” (which featured a newly dumped Ms. Schefft and finished in February without a coupling) is ranked No. 41 in the demo with a 3.9, 10th among ABC shows.

The two installments of “Bachelor” have a demo average of 3.6, No. 44 for the current season. Both are far below the network’s new reality performer, No. 12 for the season “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” which is tied with “Monday Night Football” as ABC’s third-highest-rated show in the demo with a 6.5 rating.

In the women 18 to 34 demo, ratings have also slid since the show’s premiere but remain competitive. In the 2002-03 season, “Bachelorette” ranked No. 7 for the season with an 11.1 rating in the young female demo, while “Bachelor” hit No. 9 with a 10.3. This season “Bachelorette” is still a top 20 show with a 5.5 rating in women 18 to 34. “Bachelor” is tied with Fox’s “The O.C.” and CBS’s “The Amazing Race” for No. 28 with a 4.7 in the young female demo.

“It’s still a really strong demo hit,” Mr. Paratore said. “A 5 [rating] is hard to come by. In today’s world those are real numbers.” Ms. Wong said the show’s move back to Mondays at 9 p.m. in January made for a good fit with “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition: How’d They Do That?” at 8 p.m. and “Supernanny” at 10 p.m. This gives ABC a promotable female-friendly Monday, a night that ABC has had trouble programming once NFL football games stop airing in December. During the course of its eight telecasts on Mondays, “Bachelorette” with Ms. Schefft gave the network a 56 percent improvement in adults 18 to 49 over last year (3.9 versus 2.5) and by 12 percent in total viewers (7.9 million versus 7 million).

“The reality block is doing very well for us,” Ms. Wong said.

Mr. Paratore said he likes the Monday time period and the strong female lead-in, but said, “The best time period would be coming out of ‘Desperate Housewives.'”

Going forward, John Rash, s
enior VP and director of broadcast operations for Campbell Mithun, said instead of making the show a fall-to-spring staple of the schedule, ABC could use the franchise in a more targeted way.

“‘The Bachelor’ could become good first-run summer escapist programming, much in the same way CBS successfully scheduled ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Amazing Race,'” he said. “As with many reality shows, ‘The Bachelor’ is still viable but probably has a core audience, and ABC is unlikely to expand it the way they did when the show really struck a chord with the American public.”

The series has continued to evolve, with the current installment’s bachelor, Charlie O’Connell, handing out roses throughout the hour. Previous rounds featured a single ceremony each hour during which roses were given to selected bachelorettes in the last moments of the show. At the end of each day covered in the hour, Mr. O’Connell is forced to vote off the least-desired bachelorettes.

“The tension is completely different; the behavior is really different,” Ms. Wong said.

Mr. Fleiss said the franchise has room to evolve further, but the fact that the installments give contestants 42 days-longer than “Survivor” places castaways on deserted islands-means they have the most chance of forming real emotions for one another.

“I wouldn’t mind giving it a short rest to increase the viewers’ appetite for it, but I think a reality relationship show will probably be on the air for quite some time,” he said. “We hope it’s ‘The Bachelor.'”