'The Bachelor': ABC Exec on Ratings, the Show's Future and What Happens When a Bachelor Quits (Exclusive)

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Colton Underwood
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Bachelor Colton Underwood might famously be a virgin, but he's the latest lead in a franchise that's been around the TV block. In its 23rd season, The Bachelor is a rarity in modern-day broadcast television; a show that is seeing its ratings grow each week. It's up year-to-date and is beating big competition like America's Got Talent: Champions.

Fans slammed the show's 2018 season with Arie Luyendyk Jr. as boring (that is, until its unforgettably dramatic finale) -- so, this year (and really, always), what'sThe Bachelorbeen doing right? ET spoke with Robert Mills, ABC's Senior Vice President, Alternative Series, Specials & Late-Night Programming, to find out. 

ET: Ratings are up this season. Do you feel like that doesn’t get covered enough?

Robert Mills: There’s always a feeling of, "The Bachelor doesn’t get celebrated enough." Sometimes it’s not mentioned along with some of the similar reality hits, but on the other hand, The Bachelor is its own thing and I think it defies categorization. I get the sense people are loving this season. It’s going to keep trending upward, and our average will be up over last year, which in broadcast television not only doesn’t happen -- usually you’re lucky if you’re only down single digits. So, if we can pull this off and be up for the season, to me, it’s a monumental accomplishment. And we’ve actually had much more competition [than usual] with AGT: Champions and Celebrity Big Brother

What do you attribute the ratings rise to?

It’s a really entertaining season, first and foremost. … But one of the things with Colton that’s interesting is that you could take his storyline from Becca Kufrin’s season of The Bachelorette or from Bachelor in Paradise and get rid of all that and just say, "This is a guy who played in the NFL, runs a charity now, is incredibly good looking, wants to get married and settle down, and he’s a virgin." So those are things where if you haven't watched last season, you could jump in fresh. I think with Blake Horstmann and Jason Tartick [who were also up for the Bachelor], you had to tie into Becca’s season, and Becca was on Arie’s season. …I think it was nice for us to sort of break the chain a little bit. 

What does ratings news like this indicate to you for the future of the show? 

The two shows at ABC that I think will be on forever are America’s Funniest Home Videos and The Bachelor. With AFV, you hear a lot of people say, "I watched it as a kid and now I watch it with my kids." With The Bachelor, you hear people say, "I watched it and now my daughter is watching it. My daughter is obsessed with it now." What’s staggering with our numbers is how young the show is; with [the] 18-34 [demographic], it blows the competition away. It’s an incredibly young show, it keeps regenerating an audience, and then everyone has their "first season." [It’s been on so long] that it’s getting harder to find people who have watched from the very beginning. 

What does this success make you consider when looking at who the next Bachelorette will be?

It is important to change a little bit the flavor each season, so it feels different but is still the show that you love. … Like with Colton, we need to take a minute. If we’d gone right after Becca’s season, we’d say, "It’s gotta be Blake.” … Is there somebody like Colton where we can say, "OK, you didn’t watch last season, but let me tell you about this woman who’s the next Bachelorette." … If you can bring people in, that’s a win. 

Underwood has said the finale is “unlike anything else.” How would you describe it? 

I actually just screened the finale, and it’s insane. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen, and that’s speaking after Arie’s, which was like nothing we’ve ever seen. The lesson is always that you have to let it play out real. … We still have to fill 20-something hours of television, but we’ve always been rewarded when we’ve let it play out and not as a game where there are rules that have to be stuck to.

This finale is so different and things really do go so off the rails that it’s important for us, for the audience, to let it play out for them. I have to tell you, my heart was racing at several points. Your heart gets a workout -- it’ll be racing, it’ll be breaking. It’s really emotional and it is so real, it’s crazy. Sometimes you’re thrilled when it’s a happy finale, like a Sean and Catherine [Lowe]. But this one, to me, goes into the pantheon of strange, with Arie, Jason Mesnick, Juan Pablo [Galavis], Brad Womack. This one’s crazy. Everyone will be talking about it.

When you know you’ve got an unusual finale, do you have to do any schedule reconfiguration and change up episodes? 

We finished filming in November, right around Thanksgiving. You start from the end and work backwards, and in this case, we’re going to make the finale two nights. There’s a cliffhanger Monday night, and Tuesday night it will get paid off. 

Colton told ET that at one point he quit the show. As an exec, how do you feel when you get the word that the Bachelor quit during filming? 

To be honest, I got kind of excited. It’s something we’ve never seen before. To be more than 20 seasons in and have something new that no one’s seen before play out is actually great. The other thing you think about is -- is he OK? Whether this ends up with him engaged, married, single, dumped, you want to make sure he’s OK. … You never want this to be the biggest mistake of someone’s life. … We just let it play out real, and then we figure out the rest. 

Are there any of Colton’s castoff contestants that you already have your eye on for Bachelor in Paradise

The way Elyse left was so fascinating, she's someone where I’d love to continue her story on Bachelor in Paradise. 

Arie and Lauren Burnham just got married, and Rachel Lindsay and Bryan Abasolo, along with Ashley Iaconetti and Jared Haibon, are getting married this year. Will fans ever get another televised Bachelor wedding? 

I think we will, but it’s a whole host of reasons. One is the least romantic of all: do we have room on the schedule for a wedding? And we hate to say that someone is planning their wedding around a Thursday in February at 8 p.m. It has to be a couple that wants to get married on TV. But you talk about ratings, The Bachelor is a primarily female show, but there are also a lot of men who watch. And it’s been hard to find men who want to watch a wedding, unfortunately. I don’t know why, but you’re cutting some of the audience right there. …They definitely are hard sometimes from a ratings perspective, and you don’t want to cut the budget because you’re worried it won’t rate well. 

What about more Bachelor Winter Games?

We were so insanely proud of Winter Games, but that was timed as a one-time thing with the Winter Olympics. But you can’t not look at the response, people loved it, and think, how do we implement that into some new Bachelor show? And when the ratings are up like this, everyone looks at it and says, you can’t have too much Bachelor. We are always looking at ways to innovate the franchise. The biggest thing is you’re happy because the fans care. The worst thing -- and it was in seasons before we started casting people from past seasons -- was when we had seasons where people didn’t care. We all talk every Tuesday morning, and we’re thrilled with these ratings. 

The Bachelor airs Monday nights at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

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