The Golden Bachelor is fall television’s first big hit — which really should come as no surprise. As one expert says, ABC is finally embracing “the demographic that actually watches them.”
Ratings for the premiere of the senior spin-off marked a three-year high for the dating franchise (The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise) in total viewers. ABC announced this week The Golden Bachelor broke records on Hulu as the network’s most-watched premiere ever on the streaming service. A quick glance on social media shows The Golden Bachelor brought in its usual audience (people who’ve been fans of The Bachelor for decades), but also appealed to new viewers who are curious to watch widower Gerry Turner, 72, find love again.
ABC has another big hit on its hand — here’s why.
The Golden Bachelor is two love stories in one
If anyone turned on show out of curiosity, it’s unlikely the channel was changed after watching the show’s brilliant open. Syracuse University professor Robert Thompson, the founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture and a trustee professor at Newhouse School of Public Communication, breaks down to Yahoo Entertainment why he thinks it was an “extraordinary” hook.
“This Bachelor has a bonus over all of the other Bachelor and Bachelorettes in that it’s really two love stories. [Producers] set the first one up in the premiere’s first four minutes,” Thompson explains.
“Gerry comes out, and then within the first 10 shots of the show, puts in his hearing aid. That was a really nice touch,” he continues (doctors agree, by the way). “And then he goes into his backstory about meeting his wife.”
Turner was married to his high school sweetheart for 43 years. They share three children and he was by her bedside when she passed.
“He’s both sanctified this wonderful love story that makes him this nice guy who’s willing of commitment. Then, it legitimizes the fact that he can then go out and date 25 women,” Thompson explains, adding that Turner has already “proven unlike any other Bachelor in the past that he’s willing to go the distance.”
“No other Bachelor could do that because they weren’t old enough,” he shares. “Now we’re going to watch the sequel of whether he gets love story number two. After the first half hour of watching this, I kept thinking, ‘I cannot believe they didn’t do this 10 years ago.’ … They set it up absolutely beautifully.”
ABC catered to ‘the viewers that are really out there’
The Golden Bachelor landed a 1.9 rating among the highly-coveted 18-49 demo and delivered another 3.34 million viewers, making the total audience 7.7 million, according to ABC.
“I’m 64 and I think I’m about right in the center of the average demographic of the networks,” Thompson shares, adding that “broadcast networks are finally going to embrace the demographic that actually watches them.”
“It did well among those viewers,” Thomson points out. “Everybody’s always saying, we’ve gotta get 18-49 demo. It also did really well among that demographic and that surprised some people, but I don’t think that should be a surprise. People don’t just watch people who are exactly like them in age or in any other thing. Game of Thrones was hugely [popular]. Most people don’t have dragons or are married to their sister.”
The Golden Bachelor is still a show featuring attractive people
The Bachelor franchise has had its fair share of criticism in recent years, namely its diversity problem. All iterations are known for featuring conventionally attractive people and The Golden Bachelor is no different. It’s why some critical reactions to the show were mixed.
“It’s concerning just how much the show is focusing on a narrow population of seniors, all very fit and active, with several contestants working in the fitness industry. Is this who the franchise believes to be worthy of a second chance at love?” read a Time article titled, “What The Golden Bachelor Says About Desirability as We Age.”
An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times declared “there’s nothing courageous” about the spin-off as ABC would never endanger the successful franchise “by attempting to show what fledgling love among mature adults might actually look like?”
Thompson agrees, telling Yahoo “one of the reasons this works is there are a lot of attractive people in it.”
“That’s really what makes The Bachelor and The Bachelorette go round,” he adds.
But on the flip side, one can argue the show pushes back against ageism.
“American entertainment has really made some progress of going away from the idea that women in leading roles start drying up at 30, and that women in romantic leading roles are almost completely unheard of after a certain age,” Thompson says, citing Hollywood leading ladies, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. “I think we have made some progress in that.”
There is a reality factor, too: there are plenty of older, single people who want to date
It shouldn’t be weird watching a 72-year-old want to find love again.
“People in their 60s and 70s find themselves single, find themselves still wanting to love and be loved,” Thompson explains. “That’s a good thing. And even with all the kind of built in silliness of [the show], which I think it needs to have or we wouldn’t watch it. People in their 60s and 70s having intense conversations about their mortality and their lives and their sadnesses and their losses, that’d be like watching Ingmar Bergman, not like watching The Bachelor.”
Still, the spin-off follows a ‘business as usual’ format
After the heartwarming introduction, Thompson points out how the show followed the same playbook as The Bachelor. While there’s “a sense of sincerity” with older contestants, The Golden Bachelor is still meant to be dramatic to bring ratings.
“I kind of hope that we’re going to have mature people. They’ve lived life, they’ve been through things. There isn’t going to be the kind of shallow, vapid [contestant pool] because you’ve got people who have kind of lived beyond that,” he shares. “But once those beautiful four minutes were over, this thing pretty much devolved into a lot of the business as usual.”
There may not be the blatant wannabe influencers that plague The Bachelor and Bachelorette, but Thompson doesn’t think everyone is there “for the right reasons.”
“I think there also are a number of these contestants who are in it for the same reasons as anybody on The Bachelor: to get some airtime, to get some action, promote themselves or those things around them.”
When you get down to it, The Golden Bachelor is a hit because it’s really just The Bachelor.
“As much as the first part [makes you think] The Golden Bachelor has escaped the gravitational force of its own stupidity and it’s going to be something else, that gravitational force proves to be pretty strong,” Thompson laughs.
“I would be very confident to say there will be a Golden Bachelorette,” he adds. “I think this is probably destined to have at least another iteration in one form or another. Whether it’s gonna go for 22 seasons is another story… but I do think [ratings success] is sustainable.”
Carol Dennis is an entertainment aficionado with an eye for all things pop culture. She dives into the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry, from movie premieres to music festivals. Carol’s passion for storytelling extends beyond her reporting, as she’s an aspiring screenwriter in her free time.