On ‘Golden Bachelor,’ Looking for Love and a Pickleball Partner

Drivers in Los Angeles heading north on La Cienega Boulevard these days might notice a bronzed gentleman smiling down at them from billboards poised on either side of the street.

He is Gerry Turner, an Indiana retiree who used to work in the food distribution industry. But as one of the billboards explains, those were not the qualifications that led to his becoming the star of the newest “Bachelor” spinoff.

“He’s hot. He’s sexy. He’s 72.”

The appraisal was taken from a recent headline about Turner, who as the first “Golden Bachelor” is the center of a new spin on the franchise that features singles 60 and older.

“This is certainly the first time in a ‘Bachelor’ campaign that we used a quote from AARP in our billboards,” said Shannon Ryan, who oversees the show’s marketing.

That “The Bachelor” is trying a slight variation on a tested formula is no revelation. The show’s myriad spinoffs have included “The Bachelorette,” “Bachelor in Paradise,” “The Bachelor” in Canada, “The Bachelor” in wintry weather, “The Bachelor” with a cash prize, and “The Bachelor” featuring people who work in the music industry.

But in all of those variations on the theme, most of the eligible singles have been young, fresh-faced 20- or 30-somethings looking to marry for the first time. In “The Golden Bachelor,” which premieres on Thursday, the nearly two dozen women vying for Turner’s attention are between 60 and 75 and include divorcées, widows, mothers and grandmothers.

Sitting in the show’s Mediterranean-style mansion in Agoura Hills, Calif., last month, a few hours before an evening of filming began, Bennett Graebner, one of the showrunners, recalled the new cast’s giddy introduction to the lavish home, with its infinity pool and Jacuzzis that look out onto the tree-dotted hills.

At first, he said, the contestants’ reactions were similar to the ones he has seen over his 15 years as a producer for “The Bachelor.”

“They ran around and looked at their bedrooms and yelled off the balcony, and we said, ‘OK, this feels like “The Bachelor,”’” Graebner said. “And they came down to the kitchen and had mimosas and they were doing toasts, and we said, ‘OK, this feels like “The Bachelor.”’”

“And then,” he went on, “one woman said, ‘Let’s toast to Social Security!’”

He hadn’t heard that one before.

With “The Golden Bachelor,” ABC is recognizing that a core segment of its audience — the network’s median viewer age is 64 — has thus far been largely ignored in the ever-growing array of dating shows. (The median age drops to 42 for ABC shows streaming on Hulu.)

In recent years, some programs have experimented with older participants, though not on this level and not with much success.

In Netflix’s “Dating Around,” Leonard, a 70-year-old private investigator, became a fan favorite.Credit…Netflix

In “Dating Around,” Netflix’s first original dating series, which had its debut the year before “Love Is Blind” became a global phenomenon, the fan favorite was Leonard, a 70-year-old private investigator. On his dinner dates, he reminisced about doing LSD in his younger years and danced the Lindy Hop with one woman on the sidewalk.

Last year, executive producers behind the popular dating show “Love Island” introduced a new show called “My Mom, Your Dad” on HBO Max, in which college-age adults watched their parents dating each other from a secret viewing room. The show didn’t last long, but an adaptation in Britain called “My Mum, Your Dad” just had its finale.

And then there’s “MILF Manor” on TLC, in which eight mothers in their 40s, 50s and 60s found themselves at a Mexican hotel in a dating pool that consisted of their adult sons.

Howard Lee, the president of TLC, said that “MILF Manor” intrigued the network because of its age bracket, which stuck out from the deluge of dating show pitches he gets featuring people in their 20s and 30s.

“For the first time, this was a series that didn’t go in that direction,” he said. “MILF Manor” had a viral moment on social media — partly driven by its similarity to a “30 Rock” gag — but it is not yet clear whether it will get a second season.

With “The Golden Bachelor,” in which the participants are as young as 60, the idea is getting its tryout in an altogether different league. After more than two decades, the “Bachelor” franchise remains a reality juggernaut, and “The Golden Bachelor” will be one of ABC’s biggest releases this fall, in part because of the network’s narrowed list of offerings during the Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes.

If “The Golden Bachelor” succeeds, expect more opportunities to arise for senior singles to look for love on television.

The showrunners said a broader cultural shift toward embracing, rather than hiding, aging helped pave the way for this show.

“Martha Stewart is on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 80 or so years old,” said Jason Ehrlich, one of three “Golden Bachelor” showrunners. “John Stamos was posting photos of himself in the shower nude for his 60th birthday. There seems to be a moment where there’s an appetite for this.”

“Bachelor” producers have been talking about a show like this for about a decade. Their efforts to make it a reality started in earnest in 2019, and they began circulating ads to recruit “seniors looking for love” in 2020. But Covid-19 put the idea on hold. (“This is not the show to make in the middle of a pandemic,” Graebner said.)

In “My Mom, Your Dad,” college-age adults watched from a secret viewing room as their parents go on dates with one another.Credit…Max

When the producers returned to the concept earlier this year, they rediscovered Turner’s audition tape. In it he explains that he is ready to find another partner after losing his wife of 43 years, whom he met in high school, to a sudden infection.

In an interview, Turner, a father and grandfather, said he is “very, very grateful, not just for myself but for people my age, that this show has been developed and it has come to reality.”

The women of “The Golden Bachelor” brought into the mansion a certain self-assured humor that comes with age, the show’s producers said. For example, the cast debated for days whether it was Susan’s meatballs or Edith’s guacamole that gave the house gas. And in Thursday’s premiere episode, when one of the women steps out of the limousine and greets Turner she opens with one thing they both have in common: hearing aids.

The women’s fun facts include that Christina’s first concert was the Beatles in 1964 and that Kathy is “OBSESSED” with Christmas. Several of the participants, including Turner, share an enthusiasm for pickleball. And some of the women also have long careers behind them; Marina, 60, has three master’s degrees.

“When we cast for the other shows, some of the younger kids come to us and they have a feeling that they need to present a version of themselves that we want to see,” said Claire Freeland, the third “Golden Bachelor” showrunner. “These women were just themselves from the jump.”

When dating shows have included older people in the past, it has often been as a kind of gimmick. The original “Dating Game,” which premiered in 1965, once brought on Kathryn Minner, an actress who was known for playing the “little old lady” characters on TV, movies and, most famously, in an ad campaign for Dodge vehicles.

“The Bachelor” has always been fond of puns and stunts, and the golden edition is likely to have plenty of age-related bits. In the mansion, there is a supply of Werther’s Originals — just like in your grandmother’s living room — and the show’s promo introducing the female contestants includes footage of a woman cleaning her glasses and another slipping on pantyhose, to the tune of “Believe” by Cher.

But the producers have tried to let the age-related humor be driven by the participants themselves.

“We’re never laughing at them, but we are certainly laughing with them,” Ehrlich said. He said he studied the sitcom “The Golden Girls” to find interesting conversation topics to pull out if things get dull.

The showrunners insist that this is not just a show for the older viewers of “The Bachelor,” about 43 percent of whom are 55 and older, according to a 2020 YouGov poll.

They think “The Golden Bachelor” has the potential to bring generations together to watch a more-wholesome version of the franchise. They also hope that a different kind of cast can entice lapsed “Bachelor” fans back into the fold and bring in new audiences who might have turned their noses up at the brand before now.

The ads, for example, won’t have the typical reality show snippets of screaming-and-crying dramatics, opting instead for more uplifting messaging, said Ryan, the president of marketing for Disney Entertainment Television, which includes ABC.

Even Eileen Zurbriggen, a feminist social psychologist who has argued in her research that dating TV shows like “The Bachelor” are actively harming young viewers’ capacity to start healthy relationships, in part by strengthening the perception of dating as a kind of game, said she saw potential for the show to work against gender clichés.

“It is refreshing, in a culture that is still so youth obsessed, to see older women presented as interested in sex and still sexually desirable,” Zurbriggen said.

April Jayne, who appeared on the dating show “MILF Manor,” said a cultural shift around aging has allowed her to embrace being 61 in her career rather than hide it.Credit…TLC

April Jayne, an actress, singer and fitness trainer who was one of the contestants on “MILF Manor,” said she spent much of her acting career hiding her age. Now at 61, she is seeing more work opportunities than ever before since her reality TV appearance.

“Once you hit middle age, it does not mean you’re washed up,” Jayne said, though she noted that the 40-year age gap between her and the young man she was dating on the show was perhaps a bit too large.

By the way, she added, if ABC happens to be casting for a “Golden Bachelorette,” she is interested and available.

Callie Holtermann contributed reporting.

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